Monday, November 21, 2022

Shelf Edition: Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

Shelf Edition: Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

Note: I just want to point out about my photos that I have a lot of books in storage currently and stacked around unorganized because we are moving things around. I didn’t have time to take the most excellent photos on a bookshelf, but I still wanted to get this interview done so it was easy to use the stacks in front of me! If I inadvertently left anyone out in photos or answers below, it was not intentional. There are many more books I could list or photo!

Do you have any recent favorite Horror Spotlight books?

This year in July I really enjoyed The Hacienda by Isabel Canas. It will be my favorite or one of top favorites of the year! It was all gothic goodness with its haunting plot ripe with suspense, forbidden romance, the supernatural, and had a wonderful historical element as its set in the time directly after Mexico’s War of Independence. It also legitimately scared me!

So far in 2022 I’ve read only women (as far as pleasure reads, I do have male editing clients, so I’ve read their work in some way, too), which is cool. I enjoy a lot of genres, so I have read a good bit of adjacent horror books, or those that cross genres. One of those recently read is the dark thriller You’re Invited by Sri Lankan author Amanda Jayatissa, which crosses into the horror and mystery realm as far as its sinister obsession themes.

I also really enjoyed What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher, which is a re-telling of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” I like gothic reads, as you can see – probably a top reading choice for me in horror, and though What Moves the Dead rides the expected gothic line, The Ruins by Phoebe Wynne was an excellent, what I will call, modern gothic. The trend of modern gothic is new enough it’s feeling its feet in construct I think with editors and authors and redefining things, taking risks. There are growing pains because the gothic has always been so succinctly definable, but evolution is necessary. If anyone decides to read The Ruins, they should understand there are triggers because it deals with child abuse and is very emotional, but it’s a good study into the horror that is family, so again it’s gothic, domestic horror. And I have her first novel, Madam, on my shelf, so I need to go back and read that one now (I had checked out The Ruins from the library).

I also read The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which was a unique take on Island of Doctor Moreau and is one of those cross genres since it encompasses horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. It was a lovely book full of horror, you know? Because it found the beauty in what most common humans would consider grotesque.

I also recently read Boneset and Feathers, by Gwendolyn Kiste and from Broken Eye Books, which had been on my TBR forever. I wanted to get it read before I started her next one. As always, she writes with lush, poetic, and lyrical prose and you can get lost in her words very easily. It was also a wonderful story of women’s empowerment and I love those witch-based tales!

Which Horror Spotlight books do you currently have on your TBR?

I’m currently finishing reading The Crow Witch by author Catherine Cavendish, which is a collection of her stories (and her first collection after publishing many books!) published by Weird House Press. I’ve been reading Cat’s work for many years, and even had the pleasure of acquiring and editing one in the past for an anthology. She is a gothic go-to for me.

I’m also reading Lute by Jennifer Thorne from Tor Nightfire, which is a folklore/cult novel and I’m enjoying it, and Unnatural Creatures from Kris Waldherr, which is ‘a novel of the Frankenstein women.’ Kris has been a favorite author of mine for many years— though she’s been identifying as being in the historical fiction genre, she’s had some of her work include supernatural elements, and even in this book, she is inspired by one of the most classic and well-loved horror authors and books in the world. So, with this new publication, she is dipping her toe over to the horror genre to say hello.
Upcoming reads for me are Nightmare Sky: stories of astronomical horror anthology created and edited by Red Lagoe, full of stories inspired by the skies and stars and a whole cast of authors I love or are new to me, which is good, as I love to find new authors to read. She did a good job offering a diverse line-up in the anthology. I also love that I can read short stories a bit at a time in a week while continuing to read longer form as well. I’m also currently ready to start Penobscot Nation author Morgan Talty’s new collection from Tin House, called Night of the Living Rez – it’s not typical horror, but it does have supernatural stuff like old curses and some domestic horror. I’m in a new online Insta Gothic book club and we’re going to read A Dreadful Splendor by B.R. Myers which is a gothic mystery that seems fun!

Also, on my short list is horror book This is Where We Talk Things Out by Caitlin Marceau and from DarkLit Press, The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean and from Tor (which is dark horror and fantasy), Hell Hath No Sorrow Like a Woman Haunted by R.J. Joseph and from Seventh Terrace (horror collection), and Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura, and translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel, which is magical realism and fantasy, but to me it’s horror with a fairytale vibe as it includes an evil wolf queen that will eat a child that enters the castle if they don’t leave each day by a certain time. It has been published several times but a new hardcover from Erewhon Press just came out and it’s lovely. Also, A Manual for How to Love Us by Erin Slaughter (she sent me an advanced copy; it comes out in 2023).

I have Reluctant Immortals by Gwendolyn Kiste from Gallery/Saga Press on my list and so many other books (and this list is just diverse horror and adjacent)! I’d also like to finally read my copies of The Fervor by Alma Katsu and The Retreat by Sarah Pearse, as well as purchase, borrow, or receive review copies for House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson, Such Sharp Teeth by Rachel Harrison, No Gods for Drowning by Hailey Piper, and Below by Laurel Hightower, The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne.

I tend to be a go with what I’m feeling I’m needing emotionally when choosing what to read so I don’t keep to a strict outline or genre.

Where do you find recommendations? Are there any Horror Spotlight books that have been recommended to you that you loved?

I usually find book recs on Twitter or Instagram from reviewers or authors or from a few horror book groups on Facebook, though I do feel the latter groups are barely, if ever, recommending diverse work. And to make matters worse, sometimes produce posts hating on certain successful Indigenous or Latina horror authors. I’ve thought about making one over there for diverse works

Book Page is a huge resource for me, and I always get a free copy at my library and peruse it, plus look at their stuff online. Also, newsletters and website and blog links of your Horror Spotlight, Tor, Tor Nightfire, Book Riot, Booklist, NPR, Library Journal, my emails from my Cuyahoga Valley Public Library, and its various libraries, as well as various Cleveland area CleveNet consortium libraries. Looking at what’s new on NetGalley (on their site direct or their emails) also shows me what’s new. All do a good job of showing books by women and diverse authors. I enjoy author and publisher newsletters and blogs as well and when they highlight books of others they’ve read or recommend.

Also, book recommendations come to me in the form of when an author or publisher asks me to check out a book for review consideration. Sometimes I’ve already heard about it and am excited but other times it’s an introduction to a book that might not have crossed my radar yet, so I always welcome review request emails and receive quite a few books for review.

Where do you prefer to shop for books?

Gosh, I am buying books anywhere and everywhere. I am a huge book thrifter and hunter and often scour shelves at library sales, thrift stores and charity shops, and when exchanging with Little Free Libraries. The thrill I get when I find something different or exciting is unmatched. This early November we went to a huge Friends of the Library book sale so big it’s in a barn!

I also like to shop at indie bookstores both those in my Cleveland area, like Mac’s Backs on Coventry or Loganberry or Visible Voices, or Fireside Bookshop in Chagrin Falls, or if we travel down the other way towards Columbus, The Book Loft, which has 30+ rooms of books (!!), as well as on any road trips or travels. It’s amazing how many unique and fun ones are out there! When my son was going to college in downtown Washington DC, I hit up all the bookstores on our trips there – there are so many bookstores and open so late. Now, my daughter has gone off to college in Maine, and so, I’m making a list of bookstores to visit there in the future or along the way. I love they are so unique and homey and make book lovers feel special.

Of course, I still love browsing bigger Barnes and Nobles, but I don’t buy stacks of books from there, only a few from time to time because of my budget these days, but do love to roam around. Half Price Books is somewhere else I go to get books or good deals. I also shop various online stores as well like since it gives back to indie bookstores too, but also, I admit, I will buy some on Amazon due to price occasionally, especially YA paperbacks for my daughters that are not ones they’d keep forever. I also have bought e-book and print both direct from author or publisher, so I guess I do an array of it all.

However, the best place I bring home most of my reads from are my surrounding libraries. I visit libraries all over the upper part of Ohio. I like to walk among the books, see their unique displays and books, their art exhibits and historical architecture and reading rooms. I work in them a lot, too. There is something about editing and doing PR work in publishing that feels nice surrounded by books, and often, they are so quiet and inviting allowing me inspiration to work when work from home gets boring. I always bring books home. And when my whole family goes, we are at checkout for like one hundred hours – I’m kidding. But really, we are a family of readers on a limited budget, so libraries are life blood to us. And I really do think all our time spent in libraries over the years has allowed my first two out of three kids to do so well with college work and be lifelong readers and travelers in body, mind, and spirit.  

Are there any upcoming Horror Spotlight releases you're excited about?

Sister, Maiden, Monster by Lucy A. Snyder, The House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher, Pinata by Leopoldo Gout, Out of Atzlan and The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro, The Shoemaker’s Magician by Cina Pelayo, Like a Sister by Kellye Garrett, Chrysalis by Anuja Varghese (maybe adjacent fantasy but with mythological beasts!), and anything by Stephen Graham Jones also always gets me happy though I still need to read My Heart is Chainsaw so I can’t be pining for his 2023 sequel just yet. I could list tons and tons of more books!

In regards to your own work, tell our readers a little bit about what’s new and/or coming up for you.

In my personal writing, it’s been a year full of publishing work and barely any writing for me. I did write a short story at the end of 2021, which released in an anthology from Brigid’s Gate Press this past 2022 Spring called Musings of the Muse. I also wrote a familial horror poem this year that will be an anthology that’s yet to be announced so I am not sure when it’s publishing.

I hope that in 2023 I can figure out what to do for myself for a better balance so I can put out more of my own work. I have two poetry collections almost done – the writing is pretty much finished, but I write in pencil and paper sometimes, so I need to type many of them to my computer and edit and formulate both collections. I will see if I will query or self-publish. I might also be republishing my first dark fiction collection of poetry and short stories, Breathe. Breathe., because it’s now out of print – but yet to decide on self-pub or to query small press since it’s a reprint. In the end, I will have at least three poetry collections I’m working on for publication, a short story collection, and long term, a non-fiction essay collection and I hope to get busy working on my novel again.

Focusing on last year, and this year, I edited and promoted a wealth of diverse works and that makes me so happy. I have several male editing clients, but I’m happy to say that I have worked with so many women of various backgrounds at all levels of their writing career that probably the ratio was 85% women to men. I have worked with many writers of diversity of all angles, and I can’t begin to tell you how rewarding that is – most are talented, creative, and most of all, willing to learn and grow and collaborate. They are alive with passion. As well this year, I have been able to watch astounding books come out from Bizarro Pulp Press/Journalstone that I edited last year such as House of Pungsu by K.P. Kulski, who is an author everyone should have on their shelves and mark to watch for more from, a body horror called Consume by Kourtnea Hogan, and the strangest book I think I might have ever read called The Taxidermied Man by Indigenous author Jacy Morris. If you like bizarre, this is definitely bizarre but also widely fun.

This year also saw publication of The Coven of Retribution by author Stephanie Evelyn, the second book in the Sophia Rey series, which I enjoyed editing because the lead is such a wonderful strong female who’s fighting back for herself and family against a cult. In that vein of strong female leads tracking down a case of a cult, I had the pleasure of hearing that Kristin Dearborn’s Faith of Dawn, which I edited just before we rang in 2022, was picked up for publish by Cemetery Dance as well as their nabbing of Hollow Girls by Jessica Drake-Thomas, which I also edited, and features a strong feminist and retribution plot like the others. These last two will be coming out in 2024. I am sensing a theme and I love it. There are many more I edited, and many I edited this year - or am now - I can’t speak about yet.

I also do book PR, both as freelance for individual authors such as EV Knight, who is such an empowering woman author and I had such a meaningful year promoting her Three Days in the Pink Tower novella, as well as for various publishers. I also do PR work for Raw Dog Screaming Press, as their PR person for their authors. It’s been great to work with Jennifer Barnes, managing editor and co-owner, and so many women and authors of diversity through them, who are really blazing the trail and lighting things on fire like Cina Pelayo, Lucy A. Snyder, Donna Lynch, Christina Sng, Eugen Bacon, and more. I don’t review or add them to reading lists since I work to help promote their books, as ethically I don’t want it read as advertising, but truly, they are putting out some stellar work and are amazing writers and poets. I hope to continue to work with them or support them or collaborate with them, and women like them, in the future as well.

As you can see, people I work with and for, I think of their success as my success. I am there to help them cope with the long and sometimes painful processes that come with publishing, cheer them on to goal lines, and be there for their successes or an ear for their down times. I want to make a difference with what I do, and I hope that shows. If I can help authors of diversity in whatever form that takes, I am so thrilled to do and honored to do my part to raise them above the fold.

Where can people find you on social media and/or find your work?

You can find a lot out at my website Oh, for the Hook of a Book!, my author page on Amazon or GoodReads, and on social media platforms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or with search under my first and last name. I also have started a strictly about books Insta and that is Hook_of_a_Book_Reads.

Thanks so much for having me and picking my brain! I appreciate all everyone on the Horror Spotlight team does to promote women, diverse, and marginalized authors!


Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi is an author, poet, editor, journalist, advocate, PR and marketing professional, and advocate for human rights with over twenty-five years of experience in her fields in various arenas. She’s also been putting pen to paper for over thirty years as a writer. She received Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History all, and has since, continuously raised children and worked while fighting multiple autoimmune disorders.

Breathe. Breathe. was her debut collection of dark poetry and short stories that was published in 2017, but is currently out of print, and had themes of horror, domestic violence, terror, and other heavy content that was partially her way of healing from trauma through writing. She also has numerous pieces of poetry and short stories featured in many anthologies, online magazines, and was co-editor of a Gothic anthology.

For over ten years she has run her Hook of a Book business doing editing and PR for authors and publishers and still has her Oh, for the Hook of a Book! blog/website where she sometimes houses various reviews, interviews, and feature articles.

Born in England, she mothers three busy teens/young adults and six spoiled rescue cats in a forest near the Cleveland area. She enjoys Lake Erie, treasure hunting whether for books or beach glass, nature trails, and travel among other things. Find Erin at her website Oh, for the Hook of a Book!, Amazon, GoodReads, or several of the main social media sites.

If you would like to be featured on a future Shelf Edition please leave a note in the comments. We'd love to see your shelves!

Teresa creates the Shelf Edition posts and is a contributing reviewer at Horror Spotlight. You can find Teresa on Goodreads, on Twitter and at Divination Hollow.

1 comment:

  1. I've been a friend of Erin's for many years, having met within the blogging community, and staying in touch on social media. I credit her for reigniting my love of horror. She is very dedicated to her work, and her family. I admire her very much. I do hope she can find more time to write because her writing is gorgeous. Great interview, Erin! I'm bookmarking so I can add your book recs to my wishlist. :)