Sara Tantlinger resides outside of Pittsburgh on a hill in the woods. Her dark poetry collections Love for Slaughter and The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes are published with Strangehouse books. She is a poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA. She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and at saratantlinger.com
Sara’s poetry, flash fiction, and short stories can be found in several magazines and anthologies, including the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. II and V, the Horror Zine, Unnerving, Abyss & Apex, the 2018 Rhysling Anthology, 100 Word Horrors, and the Sunlight Press. Currently, Sara is editing Not All Monsters, an anthology that will be comprised entirely of women who write speculative fiction. The anthology is set for a 2020 release with StrangeHouse Books.
- When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
ST: I had always enjoyed writing some angsty poetry since middle school, but I never seriously thought about being a writer until halfway through my undergraduate studies. Instead of pursuing secondary education, I decided to major in English literature and creative writing. I fell madly in love and never looked back. Pursuing my MFA through Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program was a huge stepping stone, too. I learned so much about writing and the industry, and even more importantly, I made lifelong friends who constantly inspire me with their own work.
- How long does it take to write your book(s)?
ST: Poetry tends to come much more organically to me. I can draft it much quicker than prose, but I like to step away from poetry projects for a while, print everything out, and then heavily edit and revise on paper – a process I end up repeating many times because I am constantly looking for anything I can make better until deadlines, but I’ve been able to finish my poetry collections in a few months rather than a few years like my thesis novel for graduate school.
Prose and I have struggled over the years, but it is slowly becoming a smoother journey! I am really looking forward to concentrating on more prose projects this year.
- What is your work schedule like when writing a book?
ST: I’m an adjunct instructor and freelance editor, so my schedule is always insane and busy. Sometimes I am lucky enough to be consumed by a project that I somehow always find a way to make time for (like with The Devil’s Dreamland), but sometimes I really have to wait until work calms down to get into a better mindset to write. There’s a lot of stress involved but writing a project I’m in love with helps negate some of that stress.
- Where do you get your ideas or information for your book?
ST: My most recent book, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes was inspired by two main things. The first was watching the documentary on Netflix about Holmes. I knew right away after writing Love For Slaughter that Holmes would somehow be my next project when I had the time. The second event that really helped my motivation to write this book was a Valentine’s Day trip with friends to the ScareHouse in Pittsburgh, PA a couple years ago (I think 2016). The ScareHouse Basement did a H.H. Holmes theme and it was amazing! The actors can touch you (I got mildly electrocuted, locked in a safe, and tied up with chains!) so you have to sign a waiver before going into the basement. The actor who played Holmes was fantastic, and the whole thing was really a unique experience.
- When did you write your first book?
ST: I wrote Love For Slaughter, my debut poetry collection, while I was working on my MFA. The program requirement is to write a thesis novel in your chosen genre, and I needed an escape from the prose from time to time. So, I slowly put the collection together in 2015 and sold it the following year before I graduated! I finished my thesis novel in late 2016, too, and am hoping to finish up some edits on it (revisions are never done, it seems) and get it out into the world.
- What do you do when you’re not writing?
ST: I feel like I’m always writing, but so much of the time it is for work and not myself. In the precious moments I can escape the computer screen, I can usually be found reading with a hot cup of tea and my cat on my lap. When the weather is nice, my sister and I like to plan road trips and concerts trips to explore new places and catch our favorite bands. Last summer we hit up Hershey Park, the Kinzua Bridge, and the I Love Lucy Museum in New York. So much fun! I love traveling whenever I get the opportunity to do so.
- What does your family think of your writing?
ST: My family is amazing and so supportive, even if they think my muses are a little creepy sometimes. Either way, they are always proud of my accomplishments, which make any little success feel like a big success to me.
- What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your books?
ST: That’s a great question. I feel like anytime I write, I learn more about writing in general because I try to challenge myself to do something different with each project and story. I never want to become a one-trick pony with my writing, so it can be surprising what you come up with when you really push to defy genre or trope boundaries.
- How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
ST: Even though I only have two poetry collections published so far, I actually have a novel, a novella, and a more literary/personal poetry collection written and floating in market space. We’ll see what happens!
I think The Devil’s Dreamland is my favorite because it was such an intense and different project to work on. I loved doing the research and trying to get into Holmes’ head. I have also really enjoyed how people who aren’t normally huge poetry fans have told me they enjoyed this collection. That’s a huge compliment.
- Any tips/suggestions on getting started?
ST: Read as much as you can! Definitely read in your genre so you know what is going on, but reading in other genres is important, too. I’m a big believer that each genre has something unique to offer that can sharpen a writer’s skills. Also, having beta readers you can exchange work with will be such an invaluable tool for as long as you write.
- What do you think makes a good story?
ST: I like seeing new twists on classic tropes or stereotypes. Sometimes when you write in one genre, it can be really hard to avoid clichés and tropes, so when a writer can take familiar devices and do something strange or unique with it, that can lead to a really exceptional story. Otherwise, I am personally drawn to beautiful, poetic prose, especially when it is describing something that is actually horrifying at its core.
- As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
ST: I’ve always been pretty obsessed with music from all genres, so when I was young I thought it would be really cool to be a DJ – That dream has long vanished, but I still have a super eclectic taste in music and have about 13,000 songs on my iTunes!
The Devil’s Dreamland: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946335274
Love For Slaughter: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946335037