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: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lorenrhoads/deaths-garden-revisited-relationships-with-cemeteries

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