Having taken a little blogging break recently, what better way to get back into the swing than with an author interview. I was delighted to have the chance to speak with Erin Sweet-Al-Mehairi a while back and ask her some questions about what makes the literary cogs in her head keep on ticking.
Before we get into the interview, here’s a little snippet of how the lovely Erin has woven together a career in literature and publishing that is inspiring to even the most seasoned of bookish gurus.
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Biography
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi 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. Oh, and she bakes, because you can’t do any of that without cookies.
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.
BREATHE. BREATHE., published by Unnerving, is 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 behind NYT best-selling poet, Rupi Kaur and holding in the Top 100 best-sellers there and in horror short stories consistently for three months past publication. She is also featured in the anthology from Unnerving called HARDENED HEARTS, which published in December 2017. Her story “Dandelion Yellow,” from Breathe. Breathe., is also featured in the MY FAVORITE STORY anthology of the Project Entertainment Network, which published also in December of 2017. This year, February rings in with the publishing of her poem, “Chained by Love” 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.
And now for the interview…
What books have most influenced your life?
So many books! I was influenced by books from a young age, as my mom read to me from the womb on, and I was introduced to all the amazing books abroad, being born in England I think, but in my formative teen years, living then and now as an American, there are a few that stand out both in creating me as the person I was to become, and now, in my remembrance, my inspiration for literature both in my studies of it and in my own writing.
As a young person, Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, The Diary of Anne Frank (which I would go on to write two various major papers on at university – still haunted by it), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, I am the Cheese and The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, then as a few more years older, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Mother Earth Father Sky by Sue Harrison, Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming, many of the poems and stories of Edgar Allan Poe, The Eye of the Dragon by Stephen King, and books by Agatha Christie, like And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile, and Murder on the Orient Express.
Mother Earth Father Sky, the novel by Sue Harrison, internationally best-selling author of high acclaim, came out when I was in high school. It blew me away. It made me want to study history, especially Native American studies, and most of all, it made me want to write. It gave me my first instance of feeling I wanted to fight for women and indigenous peoples, to study the land and social issues, to learn about the world. I am so thankful to Sue for writing her books and opening my eyes. Coming from a small rural town, and a sheltered environment, it made me want to see the world. The best part is that now, later in life, Sue and I became friends and I was able to tell her how much her work meant to me. When Breathe. Breathe. came out, she bought a copy, after cheering me on in my writing, and she gave me a fabulous blurb and I have been speechless ever since.
Later, other books or stories that influenced my life have been Rose Madder and Dolores Claiborne by King, The Clan of the Cave Bear series by Jane Auel, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, The House at the End of the Lake by Neil Gaiman, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, poetry of Emily Dickinson, Cradle Lake by Ronald Malfi, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, and a short story by Brian Kirk called “Picking Splinters from a Sex Slave” in the anthology Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories.
Poe helped influence my love of Gothic literature, as did books by Jackson, Daphne Du Maurier, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, to name a few. They impacted me because they made me feel that our haunts and hurts could be vocalized on the page in a meaningful and lasting way.
How do you find time to write, being a busy mum?
For me, finding time to write is REALLY hard. It might be a bit better now the kids are older, even though we still have a good amount of driving, counseling, errands, chores, and love to do and give to them, but mostly it’s my busy business/career that makes it hard. I work for authors and publishers doing editing, public relations, marketing, social media, run my site, etc. I used to do this strictly and in addition for other businesses as well, but now with the load, I mostly work in books. Authors are way more demanding than my children, by far. My kids are extremely good and give me time to work, and if I need it, to write. They want me to live my dream, but I feel guilty and I want to spend time with them. I won’t get these moments back. EVER. My oldest is graduating this year and will go off to college in another state. It’s getting real. So for now, I write in the early mornings if I’ve been up all night working (like now it’s 4:44 a.m. as I am doing this), or I put aside some of the work to-do list and I write at night. Sometimes I’ll go out during the day and make time for it, rarely, but I hope to do that more. I need that time! I also must wait till the juices flow, and right now they are, freely, so I have to take advantage of that on some level, but I’ll balance it all. The key is to set time as if it’s any other appointment and stick to it or to take advantage of the small moments. I will have time to write even more as the kids move on with their lives, which is why I must eat my fruits and veggies and stay healthy in my older years!
Is there an underlying message in your work you want readers to hear?
I think my work has been a healing process for me. It deals with loss, trauma, anxiety, domestic violence, assault, rage, revenge, and all those feelings. In my dark poetry and short fiction collection, Breathe. Breathe., the tying theme was breathing. It explored breathing through anxiety, pain, illness, violence, shame, perfectionism as well as through nightmares, that chill in the air, that moment you hold your breath, the moment you’re strangled to death. Life is an uphill battle of breathing, whether controlled or sporadic.
If you could go back in time what advice would you give your younger self?
Simply, not to let people, especially men, control me, hold me back, stifle me, and make me feel inadequate. Be an independent, vibrant, creative woman and not be afraid to shine. I’m still giving myself this advice.
Your poetry really grabbed me and I’m not normally a fan of poetry, what do you most like about this style of writing?
If you’re asking what I like about poetry, it’s that I love the way you can create a short scene or a moment in time through them. We can create images for the mind to ponder. A reader’s mind can then savor and extend it in their own head or we can make the reader think. We can pack a punch with a short amount of words which I feel creates more impact. Mine are a lot more narrative than most people write, but I try to challenge myself to write a simple story within a poem that readers will want to know more about or that will shock or sadden or give them a moment of emotion. Poetry can be healing, it was for me because you can allow your feelings to be shared on the page, or in the case of some of mine, allow for revenge.
I also like poetry because I can mess around with words and phrasing, It’s a challenge. As well, I can write them more quickly when the inspiration strikes and create a theme, a time and place, a memory, like a scrapbook. I enjoy music and so for me, poetry is just like music in how it makes you feel or dream.
What was the breakthrough moment in your writing career?
Oh, I’m not sure. I suppose Breathe. Breathe. meant so much to me and was life-changing to me due to its content and that it helped me in breaking the silence. It forced me to put myself out there publicly in a way I never have before, to cleanse myself, create awareness, and to help others, as well as create an immersing experience. It’s gotten so much interest and I am humbled by its reception. I’ve always written a myriad of things and been working on fiction writings for a very long time (over 25 years), but to finally have a collection published, has been truly grand. I’ve been in the book publishing business for about seven years, horror genre included, and so to finally be getting reviews for myself and for people to remember I’m also a writer, or as validation of my work, I think has made me finally be seen for my writing and not just for what I can do for people. For me now that others have validated my writing in the field, I think it’s enabled me to get some more traction and encouraged me to write more frequently and seek out opportunities.
Hitting the Amazon Top Paid Best-seller list at #2 in Women’s Poetry behind New York Times Best-selling Rupi Kaur, who had her second collection come out around the same time, was monumental to my writing career (okay, my life!!). That it reached the top of the best-seller charts in horror short stories as well showed me how well-rounded my work was and that it was touching all sorts of people.
What advice would you give any aspiring writers out there?
To start your platform of blog, site, social media channels, and whatnot long before publishing. Build and create relationships while you’re writing. That way, when you do, your followers will support you and be excited for your work to come out!
As far as writing goes, just write it all out, but edit it all later. It’s best to write out the story and not worry about grammar or the details. Then, spend time editing it after setting it aside for a little bit. Come back fresh to it, if you can. When you have it where you like it, hire a professional editor to help you refine it either for submission to publisher or self-publish. After all that’s done, be sure to utilize beta readers too.
Most of all, don’t be a jerk, ***hole, or a user. Be friendly and supportive of other writers. Make friends with readers and bloggers who talk about books. Be inclusive. But most of all, GO AFTER YOUR DREAM.
What are your top 5 books everyone must read before they die?
I wish I was able to name more than five, as it was hard to narrow down.
- The Terror by Dan Simmons
- Dead of Winter by Brian Moreland
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseni
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood