Death’s Garden Revisited: Interview with Editor Loren Rhoads

I recently was asked by Loren Rhoads if my short essay about how I met my beautiful and wonderful wife could be used in her upcoming book. I enthusiastically said yes. Now Loren has agreed to be interviewed here on my blog.

Loren Rhoads is the editor of Death’s Garden: Relationship with Cemeteries and Death’s Garden Revisited. She is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. She’s also written a space opera trilogy, a collection of short stories, and a memoir called This Morbid Life.

Death’s Garden Revisited, the book that will contain my story, is an anthology of cemetery essays from genealogists and geocachers, tour guides and travelers, horror authors, ghost hunters, and pagan priestesses about why they visit cemeteries. Spanning the globe from Iceland to Argentina and from Portland to Prague, Death’s Garden Revisited explores the complex web of relationships between the living and those who have passed before.

RH: Hey Loren, thank you for taking the time to do this. I have heard your story about your inspiration for Death’s Garden, but can you tell us the story for those that don’t know it?

LR: The original book, Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries, came about in the early Nineties, when a friend gave me a shoebox full of photographs of cemeteries he’d taken on vacations to the Caribbean and the California Gold Country. Once I started talking to people about making the book, it seemed that everyone had a cemetery they had a relationship with. Eventually, the contributors spanned underground artists, a ceramics professor from Ohio, and indie musicians including Lydia Lunch.

That first book went out of print fairly quickly. I’ve always wanted to publish a sequel, so I’m using Kickstarter to fund a full-color hardcover of Death’s Garden Revisited now. It will be published in October.

RH: Were cemeteries a big part of your life prior to the shoe box?

LR: Not really. My parents liked to visit American historical sites, so I’d been taken to Arlington and the Jefferson family graveyard at Monticello, but before Blair gave me that box of photos, it never occurred to me to intentionally travel to visit cemeteries.

RH: Cemeteries are often depicted as scary places in pop culture. Are you ever scared by them?

LR: I’ve had some scary experiences in cemeteries, like the afternoon I almost got locked in at San Michele in Isola, the cemetery island that serves Venice. I was so excited to explore the island that I didn’t think to check when the last boat left. Once the sun started to set, I was completely turned around and didn’t know where the dock was. That would’ve been a long, cold night!

My other scary experiences have mostly been related to wildlife. I found an enormous snakeskin shed in the long grass in an isolated graveyard down the California coast. I have a healthy respect for rattlesnakes, but I was wearing tennis shoes and nobody knew where I was… My kid nearly sat on a scorpion in a cemetery in Singapore. And I thought I was being stalked by a mountain lion at one point in another cemetery in the middle of nowhere.

Really, the potential for ghosts is much less frightening than being eaten.

RH: My essay is kind of a different sort of story for me. Did most of the writers surprise you? I know I surprised myself.

LR: A lot of the writers in the book are people I knew from the horror community. I knew they could write fiction, but I wasn’t sure about personal essays – that is such a different skill. Saraliza Anzaldúa is a Xicana writer who wrote about visiting Sacagawea’s grave in Wyoming. It’s such an amazing essay. Rena Mason wrote a beautiful meditation about the Sighisoara Cemetery in Romania. If you’ve read her books, you wouldn’t expect such a dreamy, descriptive travel story. Benjamin Scuglia contributed a really lovely ghost story. It creeps up on you, then has a really chilling ending.

RH: If fundraising reaches $5,000 we will be having a book release at a cemetery. Do you have a cemetery in mind for the festivities?  

LR: I do! I’ve spoken a couple of times at a cemetery south of San Francisco. I haven’t approached them yet, so I don’t want to name names, but they have a really nice event space in the midst of their beautiful, historic grounds. I hope things work out to host our release party there.

RH: On your Twitter ask-me-anything, you mentioned a few cemeteries in Europe that you really enjoyed visiting. How many countries have you been to cemeteries in? 

LR: I’m going to have to count… England, France, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, Canada, Singapore, Japan. The list I want to visit is much, much longer.

RH: Cemeteries are usually not tourist stops. How have locals taken to you visiting? Any crossing of social mores or are people generally happy about you visiting?

LR: Oh, I disagree! A lot of cemeteries are tourist stops: the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, Elvis Presley’s grave at Graceland, most (if not all) of the historic churches in Europe, the D-Day cemeteries in France… People are sometimes surprised when I point out that every tourist destination – from Yosemite to the Vatican – has graves associated with it. Even Disneyland has prop cemeteries!

I try to be very respectful when I visit graves or graveyards, but it’s easy to get it wrong. The first time I visited Japan, some friends took me to see a temple graveyard in Kamakura, which was the old capital. I had so many questions! I was unintentionally rude before I realized that they were glad to have brought me to the graveyard but they weren’t comfortable discussing it with me. Good will and a sincere apology go a long way.

RH: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. It is an honor to be included in this journey. If you have not already, donate to the go fund me page, it is securing a preorder copy of the book which is going to be amazing. Thank you! Here’s the link:

Thanksgiving: 2020 edition

Today was day four of feeling as if I swallow a straight blade razor with every trip of my Adam’s apple. I got in to see the doctor and had my finger stabbed and then milked for blood to test me for mono. They also swabbed my lower intestine by way of my mouth to test me for strep. When both tests came back negative, the doc shrugged and jabbed a swab up my nasal passage and opened my third eye to test me for covid. Yet I was the lucky one, a dear family member has been transferred from a hospital to a rehabilitation wing of a nursing home where he will be probably through the holidays.

On all of my social media, I am seeing stories of fear, heart break, and loss. The cynic in me demands to know what we have to be thankful for this year of all years. Are we thankful for the PS5 that Walmart is selling out of prior to actually having any? Are we thankful that it looks like we will finally have a president that takes climate change serious? Or is this holiday just a economy boosting scam to swindle Americans into spending their money on foods that they really don’t like or else they would have it more than once a year? At least Black Friday may be a little lighter due to fear of the global pandemic, how’s that for an optimistic outlook?

Perhaps Thanksgiving is more than that though. Maybe it is a celebration of our nation’s history. If so, it is a celebration of our darkest part of our history. It is a celebration of genocide and mass murder as we stole land from the inhabitants. Is that seriously what you want to celebrate?

Despite all of this, I find myself unwilling to give it up. I refuse to just eat a microwave dinner and call it a day. The traditions, the meaning, the history of the holiday is not to be found in history books, on the 24 hour news cycle, or on social media. It is a personal history. It is a private and individualized meaning. It has nothing to do with food, as this year my meal will be vegan, even though I am not. It is not about sports ball games, losing at washers, or winning at poker. It is simply a celebration of life, in whatever way makes you happy. For that I am thankful. Please, raise a glass of wine, rum, eggnog, kombucha, or whatever makes you happy (I’m having water because of the antibiotics). Join me in having a day of gratitude. Tell your loved ones what they mean to you, even if they are no longer here to hear. Love you guys

Don’t Use Writing Prompt

It is my firm belief that writing prompts are a waste of time. If you need prompting into creating a story to write about, perhaps you should find a different hobby to occupy your time. Prompts are for people that lack the imagination to explore on their own. If you are a user of prompt, don’t hate me. I was too for numerous years as I struggled to find my voice. The interesting thing is that I stopped struggling when I stopped using prompts and stopped strangling the voice inside me and allowed it to run free. The first story I did that for was the first story I sold.

I find that often when I look at prompts, I usually think that the writer of the prompt has a vivid imagination. They did the thinking for me, now all I need to do is paint by numbers and call myself an artist. Of course, that isn’t the truth of the matter. Many great stories have been born from prompts, but my gut reaction is that anything I would write would be cliché to the point of plagiarism.

How do you avoid this pitfall? Easy. Don’t use Prompts to stimulate your writing.

For those of you that feel like this is taking a tool out of your box, rest assured, I will tool your box all up with a suitable substitute. And here’s the key: INSTEAD OF USING WRITING PROMPTS, USE A SUBMISSION CALL

There are thousands of websites, Facebook groups, and even email lists for submission calls. And here’s the real kicker. Submit the story once you are done. Submit it if you think you lost focus on the call and went on a tangent about socks. Submit it if you think the publisher is going to hate it because your story is about fairies and rainbows and the anthology is about fierce beasts from mythology. Submit it if you think you are a hack writer that couldn’t write your way out of a paper bag (the key to writing out of a paper bag is to imagine it is a box instead, and then write outside of it). No matter the reason for your insecurities, write your story and submit it. Send it to an editor first though. It’s not a blog post for the love of God.

If you would like a good list of calls for horror, science fiction, and fantasy then check out

Search around and find the market that appeals to you the most. Searching the markets is a fun alternative to Candy Crush while on the shitter. Good luck with the search.

The Zombie Paradox

21908412_10213938148149593_1288151070_o(1)As many of you probably know, my latest book is There Are No Zombies In America (henceforth known as TANZIA in this document) is not a zombie book. There are no zombie hordes wandering the streets… except JB’s, but that doesn’t count. There are no brutal imagery of zombies eating people… except the Youtube videos, but they don’t count. I’m getting off topic here. What I am trying to say is that this is not a zombie book.

So the problem here is zombies are mentioned in the title of the book yet it is not a traditional zombie book. Trust me, I have read hundreds of zombie books, and this is not one of them. Yet the people that generally buy zombie books will steer away from it like a steer from a slaughterhouse. And the people that generally don’t buy zombie books, they will fly from it like a fly from Mr. Miyagi’s chopsticks.

So the dilemma is such, how do I lure the steer to the slaughter house and trap the fly in the web. In short and with fewer mixed metaphors, how do I sell this damn book. One of my readers, the wonderful Stan Davis, helped me some by reading the book and posting a wonderful review. Then he sat down at his computer and designed a new cover for the book that he thought better captured the mood of the story. I am deeply grateful to him for his generosity. 21908384_10213938070787659_1804164850_o

But now what. Sales are still slow coming, yet the reviews have been very good. I am thinking of doing a free weekend of the kindle version, but I’m not sure it will help any. It is a book I want people to read, and I am not even concerned about the money as much. Any ideas or suggestions are welcome.




#Bookreview The City by Clifford Simak

City is one of those Science Fiction books that has a brilliant idea, but the delivery is just muffled a bit to make it a good read but not great. I see it very much in the same mold as Asimov’s Foundation. There is a lot that can be discussed here, but all of them would involve spoilers. It is very complex and will be sure to take turns you didn’t expect. I would call it a must read for all science fiction fans, even though I do not think it is the best book by Simak. If you have read this, I would love to discuss some of the philosophical ideas and dilemmas presented. Please message me.

#Bookreview Dirty Little Secrets by Christopher Minori

Christopher Minori’s anthology of short stories, Dirty Little Secrets is a fun set of stories, each one bringing classic themes of horror and speculative fiction        out for a new stroll through you mind. While none of the stories offer a truly groundbreaking story, they do what they set out to do; they entertain.

Minori is from the mold of writers whose craft has been molded through thought experiments of other stories and how they can be twisted into a new tale. The results can be stale at times and brilliant at others.

My favorite stories from this anthology are Father’s Request and The Hummel Store, which is strange for me as they are also ghost stories. I generally do not prefer ghost stories, but I thought these two were Minori’s best efforts. What made these, and A Pound of Flesh, work so well is that the characters in these stories were built to a more acute angle and made whole. While other stories in the book fall short as the characters are made shallow or are cartoon parodies of real people.

While I am often a fan of satire, I think Minori’s style tends to be better when dealing with serious topics. The several comedic pieces in the book fell short for me.

All in all, this was a fun read. Elements of the old Twilight Zones lurk in these pages. Give it a shot.   41FJOGL5aWL41FJOGL5aWL

#BookReview Kenobi by John Jackson Miller #StarWars

Star Wars Kenobi (promo cover)

Of all the Star Wars books I have read, This is my favorite. It is my favorite because it is not a fantasy like the rest of the films, or even a Space Opera or science fiction. Kenobi is a western, and Jackson even included all the old tropes of the western genre. One of my favorite aspect is the the mysterious stranger that shows up and cleans up the town is actually known to us. The Pale Rider is Obiwan Kenobi, hero of the Clone Wars, the trainer of Anikan Skywalker, killer of Darth Maul. We have pulled the mask off the Lone Ranger, and he is one of the last Jedi. If you are a Star Wars fan, read this book. Especially now that there are talks of a movie.

#BookReview The Fireman By #JoeHill


Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill, is not the dark wizard his father is, but he clearly has a bit of his father’s flare in him. The Fireman is a very interesting story. The initial story is pretty ridiculous, but the characters are wonderful, and the action builds to an inferno. I would give this one 3 out of 5. Worth a look if you have the time and the inclination.

#BookReview Duma Key by #StephenKing

Duma Key has, since it’s publication, been one of King’s most disliked books. The reasons are fairly clear. It is a book with a monster story thrown in because that is what King likes to do, but the other story of healing on a personal retreat and finding a hidden talent as a coping mechanism is the far more compelling story.

So in this mess of a story, King tells us a story that is both very human and quite personal and then ties it with a fantastical, mystical story that is far fetched and really kind of stupid. But that is what makes King the master he is. King can create characters and tell us about our lives like nobody else, and then he brings the dark.

I recommend this one. I give it a 4 out of 5. It is far from King’s best, and far from his worst too, but it is a fun ride and I enjoyed seeing the worlds of realism and abstract combine on the canvas.

Book Review: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein is one of those names that when I hear it I am instantly filled with a sense of respect and admiration. With the likes of Bradbury and Asimov, Heinlein has me from the outset. Unlike the others, Heinlein usually loses me in pretty short order.
This book is probably the best of the old masters that I have read, or the one that has held up the best. Heinlein is just so deeply wedged in his own ideology that his science fiction is unable to see beyond his limited scope.
I enjoyed this book. Yet I found it too often fell into the Heinlein flaws of still rejecting females as worthy characters and always having the government as the ultimate evil. In short, I am starting a campaign in my own mind to revoke Heinlein’s legend status, not because he no longer deserves it, but because he never deserved it in the first place.
Orson Scott Card may be a horrible human, but at least his books don’t show that.