Sunday, May 6, 2018

Exclusive Interview with Author Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi


I'm thrilled to feature author, poet, and amazing friend Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi. She is the author of the poetry and short story collection Breathe. Breathe., which I reviewed earlier this year and was absolutely blown away by it.


In the collection, Erin relies on a lot of literature including but not limited to Alice in Wonderland, Great Expectations, among others, in addition to mythology. Erin and I talk about all of this and more in this exclusive interview.

We also talk about book marketing, favourite reading genres, writing help, and lots more. 

One of the most prominent themes in Erin Al-Mehairi's writing is women empowerment and breathing in order to progress forward.



Below is the interview, about the author, and praise for Breathe. Breathe.

Shall we get to the interview?
Join me in welcoming Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi *applause applause*



1)      Tell us a bit about your writing in general and over the years.
Erin: Probably best explained by all over the place? I started writing in my teens, both poetry and narrative essays. I went to university for a degree in Journalism because I loved writing and thought that I could write about all my various interests. Eventually, for work, I wrote marketing and public relations materials and press releases, ads, articles, etc. and didn’t have much time for other writing. 

I dabbled in poetry a little still, just because I liked it. After having my kids, and I have three now, my writing went by the wayside (my fiction) because after writing all day for work, then taking care of my kids, for a portion of the time as a single mom, I was exhausted. I’ve been very happy for the past 9 years to be back to writing again, but still get myself into similar binds with workload where I have no time to write. Though the kids are older now, they still keep me busy, but are big supporters of my writing, so they encourage me, which is grand. It’s my choice to make them a priority. I know soon enough they will be adults.




When I can find a few spare minutes early morning, or on the weekend, I’ll write poetry, in pencil with paper! I write guest articles or answer interviews when I can sneak that in. I’ll work on my stories as I can too – my muse is chirping loudly these days. I look forward to summer because there is always a little more time for writing – no school, later night, trips to the lake.

2)    A little cliché, but what are you favourite reading genres? And books, like the best of the best?
Erin: I like horror, historical fiction, biographical fiction and non-fiction, mystery, thrillers, literary, classics as favorite reading genres. I like a very WIDE range of books and themes.

My favorite books are Dead of Winter by Brian Moreland, Cradle Lake by Ronald Malfi, The Terror by Dan Simmons, Mother Earth Father Sky by Sue Harrison, Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, The Gunslinger and  Dark Tower series, Dolores Claiborne, and Rose Madder by Stephen King, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Elizabeth Howe, The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova, Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie.




Canonic – This list could be big! Let’s go with Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer (strictly for Canterbury Tales), Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Emily Dickinson, Anne Frank, Harper Lee, Sylvia Plath, Arthur Conan Doyle – is Madeline L’ Engle considered now? – Agatha Christie (LOVE) – oh so many more!!

Contemporary – Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Ronald Malfi, Brian Moreland, Josh Malerman, Ania Ahlborn, Jennifer McMahon – horror. Sue Harrison, Susan Spann, Stephanie Thornton, Christopher Gortner, Michelle Moran, Kate Quinn, Kathleen and W. Michael Gear, Jesse Burton – historical fiction. Ruth Ware, Paula Hawkins, Gillian Flynn, Heather Graham, and Linwood Barclay for suspense thriller. Neil Gaiman and Deborah Harkness – fantasy. I love David Morrell, he can fit in many categories and Elizabeth Kostova, who can fit into horror/supernatural and historical.

3)    Is Breathe. Breathe. Your first solo book? What other books have you published? Can you tell us more about them briefly?
Erin: Breathe. Breathe. is my debut collection of dark poetry and short stories published internationally by Unnerving. It started out as a chapbook, which sold out, and then, a few months later, came out as the expanded edition in print and e-book with 50% more poetry and three more short stories.

I haven’t published any more books yet! I’ve been busy working in various fields over the past 20 years, the last seven in book publishing, editing, and publicity, and though I’ve been working on manuscripts and writing poetry in whatever spare time I can find, I haven’t yet published anything else yet in book form.


I have a story in the anthology HARDENED HEARTS, from Unnerving, called “The Heart of the Orchard,” which the reviewer Sadie Lou Who called very “Rumpelstiltskin-like!” I also have a story from Breathe. Breathe., “Dandelion Yellow” in the anthology MY FAVORITE STORY, which is an anthology of Project Entertainment Network, the podcast conglomerate on which I’ve done some segments as a part-time co-host on The Mando Method.

In February 2018, I had my poem, “Chained by Love” about a medieval French mermaid named Melusine, published in Enchanted Magazine: a fairy tale magazine.
I have lots of editing credits as editor for novels, novellas, and short story collections. I sometimes write forewords for the latter.

4)    Did you write specific pieces to be in-line with theme of Breathe. Breathe.?
Erin: Yes, I wrote or chose everything to be in line with the major theme and all the sub-themes to tie threads through it all as a cohesive piece. Sometimes it was subtle, but all of them had some sort of breathing element to it, even if was just subliminal breathing through fear, pain, loss, or just being chased, murdered, or anxiety-ridden, to simply, literally not being able to breathe. Sometimes it was a statement of “this is what happens when you can’t breathe anymore and anger over takes you.” The collection is divided up into Acts 1 and 2: breathe through fear and breathe through pain.

5)    Or did you have everything written and then arranged it for the collection?
Erin: I had some of the poetry written in my stash of unpublished poems. Some I re-edited and some fit already because I had been writing them for healing. When my publisher decided on an expanded version, then I wrote more of them and as I wrote them, I’d see if they fit. My head was all in the same space with the themes within Breathe and so I didn’t have too much trouble including almost all of the new ones I’d written. It was almost as if the collection was writing itself, causing me to meditate, release, grow, and heal, all in a very short period.


6)    How did you decide which poems will be included in Breathe. Breathe.?
Erin: I mostly decided based on the major theme, breathing, which can be breathing through pain, anxiety, murder, restlessness, trauma, etc. Then, I chose based on sub-themes of domestic violence, abuse, sexual assault, healing from trauma, if they were Gothic in nature and fit the theme, and finally, I chose following those themes, based on having fun writing about creatures and monsters from nightmares or that my mind created or from folklore. I let myself explore humanity within these various subjects and how far we’ll go as humans to heal pain.


Beyond that, I tried to choose an array of poems, and stories, that really showed off all my writing and touched elements of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, literary, crime, and also, highlighted various types of poetry forms and dabbling. I possibly covered way too much ground with this one collection, but I also feel that in explaining all of that, it also did bring itself together in a magical way I can’t explain.


7)   You've mentioned Egypt and Japan in Breathe. Breathe., have you been to either of them? What other countries do you hope to visit and get inspired by?
Erin: Sadly, I haven’t been to either, except through my mind from reading, watching, and studying. I was married to an Egyptian man for a good amount of time and we had two kids. I learned so much about the culture, from modern Cairo, to foods, culture, old TV shows, movies, and music. It was almost as if living it, but yet, I was never able to go visit. Now that things have improved with travel, I hope to go one day! Before I met him, I was always an avid reader of Egyptology studies, books, articles, and watched expedition and cultural shows. And I also am a fan of any fiction that includes any Egypt setting from historical books to horror.


My story “Life Giver of the Nile” in Breathe. Breathe. stems from a childhood re-occurring nightmare of being drowned this way. It haunted me for so long and as a child I couldn’t even read Aladdin. I think it was a genie (say prayers). But it came knocking as a story to me then when I was working on the collection – I thought for a while because I didn’t want it to be about that sort of magic. I felt I needed to be centered in Egyptian history and it needed a water element. So of course, I thought of the Nile, which I’ve always thought was amazing. I chose Anuket as my antagonist, not because I think she’s evil, she’s not at all of course, and I really don’t think that, but because she watches over the Nile. I needed a twist on it to match my dream and also capture the breathing element. I hope that I at least captured the atmosphere of Egypt!

The Temple of Kom Ombo. Photography by Hager Mohamed Moharram.

Japan, and Thailand, were both featured in my collection due to my love of mythology and legend from all various cultures. Both of the characters in these poems spoke to me as muses. I was surprised but happy, because I really like how they turned out. I have a Native American spirit featured in a poem as well, because that heritage interests me. In my next collections, I’ll probably travel to other places, like Scotland, Norway, Australia.

I was born in the U.K., in England, but moved to the United States when I was 3 ½ and have lived here by the Great Lakes ever since. I would love to go back to the U.K. and I am sure this will begin to pop-up in my writing as well at some point.
I’d like to visit almost everywhere in the world! I adore looking through pages of photographs and watching documentaries of all sorts on travel and other countries. Reading or watching often is enough to inspire me, then I research.

8)    What are you currently working on? Can readers expect another poetry collection from you?
Erin: I’m working on a solely poetry collection taking a spin-off of the works in Breathe. Breathe. that had water elements to them, and creating a menagerie featuring water. Water has always been a huge source of inspiration for me, which also supplying me with energy, both physically and mentally. I feel at peace by the water, but also the anger and danger in its depths. I feel life and death both. I believe water has special power for me. I’m going to explore both people’s pain on the water in different forms as well as sea monsters, ship wrecks, and coastal village intrigue. I’m a huge fan of the last three. I hope others like it, but I’m writing it because it’s fun for me! I’m looking for a publisher for it.

I’m also working on a short story collection based on the works of Van Gogh as well as stand-alone short stories and poetry for submission.




In larger works, I’m working on a novel still that I’ve been picking away at for years. It’s a revenge novel, as far as I’m concerned at this point, featuring an abused woman and the ghost of Emily Dickinson. It takes place in Emily’s hometown. I’m excited for this one.

And since writing my Vahalla Lane series in Breathe. Breathe., I’ve had some response to it and so I’m writing on a novella when I have the chance featuring the story of one of the women, both in prequel and in sequel to what happens.
And then I am super excited this year as I am the guest editor for Unnerving on a Gothic anthology of poetry and short stories called Haunted Are these Houses. Submissions closed 28 April and we are busy reading them. It will publish in Fall 2018.

9)    I know you've taken part in several anthologies, what is the biggest advice you can give to aspiring writers who would like to take part in anthologies or publish their own work?
Erin: Oh yep! I listed those anthologies above already. I think I can give the best advice from an editor stand-point. Presses and magazines get up to 500-600, even 1,000 submissions, for a project from people all over the world if they do open submissions. It’s very hard to set yourself apart, but some tricks for doing so are to have a unique story, or a diverse story in setting or characters, and ultimately, one that makes an editor FEEL or grabs them from the first couple paragraphs. Other points are, starting with the cover letter, you have to use proper grammar, spelling, and use proper attribution. Don’t say “Dear (press)” and then put the name of another press. Also, follow the submission guidelines to perfection and make sure you edit your piece well or have it professionally edited.



As for how to get invited to anthologies, a writer should be out there on social media talking to all the right people, if within reason, travel to conferences and meet people face-to-face, and if not, again social media is important. Show you can write. It will more likely come after you’ve been published in some way and have some support behind your writing to get these invites.

And in publishing your own work, it’s easier than people think, and without the stigma. You can self-publish by having your work edited, having a phenomenal cover done, setting-up a press name for your business, and then uploading to Amazon. Next, you send out professional letters for review or you meet-and-greet other on social media. Just remember, it is a business and you have to sell your work if you want to make money or for your work to be known.

If you would like to publish with a press, the submission tips above are similar, or once you have some work out there, a press may find you if you are on social media engaging in the right places.

10) I know you're doing the women in horror month – or year – but do you have something planned for April, National Poetry Month?
Erin: Yes, I’ve been hosting women and men interviewing women in horror, starting in February and running as long as I get them through the year. I’ve also been doing Women in History, which is still running. I wanted to do some great things for April for National Poetry Month, It makes me sad. I hope to still feature some original or reprinted poems and have poets I know on my site with interviews or guest posts. I hope you’ll still join me! I also grabbed a pile of poetry books from the library to read and report on – I tried to go diverse and stretch past my normal reading to include poetry by other cultures and backgrounds.

Note: Nadaness In Motion does have a post on Erin's Hook of a Book blog, featuring a poem titled "REAWAKENING" a must-read that Erin says she's read over and over. Check it out here.

You can visit my Hook of a Book site



11)  How much time do you spend marketing your books/works daily or weekly?
Erin: This is a hard question for me, and this is why, because I do marketing and publicity in addition to editing for authors/writers/businesses, and the work is tirelessly busy at the moment, my own takes a backseat. I don’t spend much though, I send out review requests, though I’m so blessed and have had a majority come to me, but I do send out a lot of them for others and so I know it’s something that takes up time but needs done. The good news is that you can do that for no charge and have you or your work featured. This is probably most time consuming. An author should have a website, social media presence, and I think it’s good to have a newsletter and/or blog. I think that you should post and be friendly on at least Twitter and Facebook daily. I think a blog should be updated three times a week, and if you do that, it can taper to once a week at times. I think your newsletter should be monthly. So, yes, you should write it down, both time and expense, and deduct the expense from your profits to show you your earnings.



But for me personally, I’m going to have to find a balance soon between work and selling my own work properly. My publisher hasn’t really done any marketing for me, I think he thinks it’s my lane so he doesn’t, but that puts more on me.

I do it for two other presses – Sinister Grin Press and Raw Dog Screaming Press – where I do a lot of the work for authors and we absorb some ad cost for them. I think that’s helpful for authors in indie. I also work for other authors freelance, because they want to supplement what their press is doing or they need help because they are on their own with their press or they’ve self-published.

However, like I said, I need more of a balance so I can write and have a writing career myself, so I’m working on seeing where I can taper back. I think writing and marketing (or branding yourself as an author) even with one book, let alone several, can really be a full-time job. The issue is, there isn’t full-time money. But I’d wager an author should spend at least 20 hours a week on their writing business even if they have another full-time job. Of course, sometimes it’s more or less each week, depending on if you have a new release or something else you need to focus on.

12) Is there anything you'd like to add?
Erin: It’s been nice meeting you, Nada, and sharing in poetry and friendship with you. 😊


About Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi


Erin is the author of BREATHE. BREATHE., published by Unnerving, and her collection and a mix of dark poetry and short stories and has been an Amazon best-selling paid title, debuting at #2 in Women’s Poetry right behind Rupi Kaur, who is a NYT best-seller, and holding various places in the Top 100 best-sellers there and in horror short stories for the three months since publication. Her story “The Heart of the Orchard” is also featured in the anthology from Unnerving called HARDENED HEARTS, which published in December 2017 and is receiving high marks. Her story “Dandelion Yellow,” from Breathe. Breathe., is also featured in the MY FAVORITE STORY anthology of the Project Entertainment Network along with Jonathan Maberry, Christopher Golden, Brian Keene, Mary San Giovanni, and more, which published also in December of 2017. 


In February 2018, her poem, “Chained by Love” was published in Enchanted Conversation: a fairy tale magazine. Currently, she is working on a new project as the guest editor for a new anthology coming from Unnerving this Fall, called HAUNTED ARE THESE HOUSES, which will feature poetry and short stories, and she is currently reading and curating submissions.

Erin has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has 20 years of experience in the communication and marketing fields and is currently a writer, a journalist, an editor, a publicist, and a consultant among many other things.

She writes fiction, essays, stories, and poetry and is an avid reader of many genres. She has edited poetry anthologies, novels, fiction pieces, and other various non-fiction and journalistic pieces. As a journalist, she’s written, interviewed, and edited for various newspapers, magazines, media outlets, and online news sources at both ends of the spectrum in media and public relations.

As an entrepreneur, she owns two businesses: Addison’s Compass Public Relations and Hook of a Book Media, in which she acts as a PR/Marketing Consultant, publicist, and editor for authors, publishers, and others. Besides her team of freelance authors she works with, she also handles marketing and PR for Sinister Grin Press, where she is also an editor, and works doing PR for Raw Dog Screaming Press as well.

A past Young Careerist of Ohio and Woman of Achievement Award winner in her community, she volunteers her time in the community and is the chairwoman on the board of directors for a local mental health center and rape crisis and domestic violence safe haven.

She is the mother of three school-aged children and a cat. She lives with her family in rural Ohio nestled in the forest—a place just ripe for nightmares. Her passions are reading, writing, book hunting, hiking, and entertainment such as movies/film, television, and music. She’s also a huge basketball fanatic, as she loves to watch her Ashland University Lady Eagles and the Cleveland Cavaliers in as many game as possible.

Erin is a co-host with her #MarketingMorsels segment on Project Entertainment Network’s The Mando Method, an award-winning weekly podcast for new and veteran writers.

You can e-mail her at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find her easily at www.hookofabook.wordpress.com. You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest where she loves new friends.


About BREATHE. BREATHE.

Breathe. Breathe. is a collection of dark poetry and short fiction exploring the surreal depths of humanity. It’s a representation of how life breaks us apart and words put us back together. Purged onto the pages, dark emotions flow, urging readers into murky seas and grim forests, to the fine line between breathing and death.

In Act One, readers are presented with a serial killer in Victorian London, a lighthouse keeper with an eerie legacy, a murderous spouse that seems to have walked right out of a mystery novel, and a treacherous Japanese lady who wants to stay immortal. The heightened fears in the twilight of your minds will seep into the blackest of your nights, where you have to breathe in rhythm to stay alive.

In Act Two, the poetry turns more internal and pierces through the wall of denial and pain, bringing visceral emotions to the surface unleashing traumas such as domestic abuse, violence, and illness.

In the short stories, you’ll meet residents of Valhalla Lane whose lives are on a violent parallel track to collision, a man who is driven mad by the sound of a woodpecker, a teenage girl who wakes up on the beach and can’t find another soul in sight, a woman caught in a time shift pitting her against the Egyptian goddess Anuket, and a little girl whose whole world changes when her favorite dandelion yellow crayon is discontinued.

Amid these pages the haunting themes of oppression, isolation, revenge, and madness unfold through folklore, nightmares, and often times, raw, impulsive passion crafted to sear from the inside out.

With a touching foreword by the Bram Stoker nominated author Brian Kirk, Breathe. Breathe. will at times unsettle you, and at times embrace you. Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, a veteran writer and editor of the written word, offers up a mixed set of pieces, identifying her as a strong, new voice in dark fiction that will tear the heart from your chest, all the while reminding you to breathe.

Buy Breathe. Breathe. via Amazon. The books is also available via Barnes and Noble in print and at other fine online retailers.

Nadaness In Motion gave Breathe. Breathe. a five-star book review

PRAISE for BREATHE. BREATHE.

Al-Mehairi creates engaging characters and often has twists to her plots that make for a unique reading experience. The highlight of this section would be the story “Dandelion Yellow,” a magical realist tale about a young girl and her box of crayons. It’s a rich, colorful tale with a suspenseful build up and haunting ending. Overall, the fiction section of the book is very well done.” – Cemetery Dance Online
“Erin paints scenes and evokes emotions with precision and skill. These are the kinds of stories and poems that tighten your chest and leave you holding your breath.” – The Scary Reviews

Breathe. Breathe. is as honest and raw as writing gets. Erin bares her soul with these poems, particularly during Act 2 in which the verses take on a much more personal and reflective nature.” -The Grim Reader

Breathe. Breathe. is a great collection of poetry and short fiction. The poems are dark and vivid. They touch at the core of the human condition. The poems are gritty and chilling. You can feel the doom and dread in each of the poems. Breathe. Breathe. is an emotional rollercoaster. The characters are troubled, and the author gives them just enough depth.– Cedar Hollow Reviews

“I am certain many readers {and not only female} will find themselves breathing shallower, or holding their breath, as the vividness of these scenes awakens memories. Other readers who may not have these particular types of painful memories, will nonetheless wince in empathy. I am equally certain very few will walk away untouched, and very few will forget.” -The Haunted Reading Room

“Raw, risky, and brave.” – Selcouth Station

“Overall, Breathe. Breathe. is a must-read for any poetry lover. It is rich in themes and ideas, from heartbreak and heartache to women fighting back their abusers, to Japanese mythology to an ancient Egyptian goddess taking a human life for a greater purpose. I highly recommend it.” – Nadaness in Motion



“I feel the poems are at their best when folkloric in nature - I particularly like "Ningyo's Misfortune", "The Driftwood of Wishes", and "Offerings to Nang Tani". The short stories "Destination: Valhalla Lane Loveless, Ohio" and "Life-Giver of the Nile" are both clever and brutal, and the standout.” – Julie K. Rose, author of Oleanna and Dido’s Crown

“Wow. This collection really leaves bruises on the soul. I'm not a huge fan of poetry, yet, I found myself glued to the words and emotions pouring out of this author. The short stories were great too. My favorite was "Lunch Served at Noon", as it had a Twilight Zone-ish quality to it. To fans of dark literary fiction and poetry, I recommend giving Breathe. Breathe. a try.” – Tim Meyer, author of Sharkwater Beach

“At times sinister, definitely dark, atmospheric and heavy with foreboding, this collection of poetry and short stories from Erin Al Mehairi touches our deepest fears. Murder, domestic violence and even an ancient Egyptian goddess all move within these pages where nothing is ever simple or straightforward.” – Catherine Cavendish, author of Wrath of the Ancients

It’s full of the unexpected – bits of lace cut through with the odd and the horrible and the beautiful. Through it all I sense the power of a survivor!! And I love that!” —Sue Harrison, internationally bestselling author of Mother Earth Father Sky (Ivory Carver Trilogy)
"Breathe. Breathe. is at times haunting, visceral, bittersweet, and tender. Erin Al Mehairi bares her soul and invites readers to devour it whole." —Hunter Shea, author of We Are Always Watching

“Erin Al-Mehairi weaves a web of narrative and poetry both beautiful and nightmare-inducing in Breathe. Breathe., invoking heartache and the need to see through the shining masks life presents us to confront the darkness it truly holds.”
—Michelle Garza, co-author of Bram Stoker nominated Mayan Blue

"I loved Dandelion Yellow.  I was hyperventilating at the end, but it was such a beautiful, painful and artful tale. I'll be saying that last line to myself for weeks at least. Just beautiful.  I'm re-reading the rest.  One read just isn't enough because DAYUM.  Beautiful." -  Somer Canon, author of Vicki Beautiful and The Killer Chronicles

"In Breathe. Breathe., Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi employs sharp, jagged words arranged in sparse, disturbingly visceral clusters to force readers to "breathe" through the fear and pain of abuse and personal terror. It's a sense reinforced by the deceptively quiet but disquieting story, "Dandelion Yellow." Filled with sharp sensory detail, the highlight is "Life-Giver of the Nile," an evocative circular time-shift tale in which an Egyptologist's soul is required by Anuket, ancient and modern goddess of the Nile, for a greater purpose. Whether in poetry or prose, dark kernels nestled within horror tropes indicate that Al-Mehairi writes from the gut and from the heart but with the fierceness of a survivor, the soul of a fearless champion. This mixed collection is a fine introduction to a strong, intriguing new voice in dark fiction." -W.D. Gagliani, Bram Stoker Finalist, author of Wolf'sTrap (Nick Lupo Series)