Who are you? Where are you from? What are you working on these days?
I’m Sarah Cannavo, a writer of (mostly) weird shit from southern New Jersey, a place that’s also full of weird shit, some of which I’ve written about. These days I’m trying my best to finish up the novel I’ve been working on for the last couple of years, a story about true love, family, magic, and graverobbing (all kinds of thieving, actually)—you know, all the good stuff. I’m also working on a few short stories, all horrific and/or spooky to one degree or another, and trying desperately to finish them, any of them.
What do you hope to accomplish as a writer?
Besides getting some of the voices out of my head? Honestly, I just want to get the stories and characters I envision down on paper and out in the “real” world, to give them some kind of life. I don’t care if I never reach the Stephen King stratosphere of fame and fandom—don’t get me wrong, that would be fucking awesome and I’d love it if I did, but if all I get to do is write the stories I want to write, the way I want to write them, and have them out there on shelves for all the world to see, I’d be happy with that.
Who are some of your influences? How have they influenced your work?
One of my earliest influences was the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, both the Lord of the Rings series and his epic poems, such as The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, and not just because Tolkien and I share an intense interest in Norse and Old English legends and sagas; he told stories on an epic level that still allowed you to bond with the characters in an intimate way and resonated realistically even though they were fantastic in every sense (something I think George R.R. Martin, another author I count as an influence, also has the ability to do), something I strive to do in my own work. Writers like Edgar Allan Poe and the Brontë sisters have spoken to my twisted little heart since I was a kid, feeding the dark and occasionally Gothic imagery in both my stories and poetry, reminding me that you can be scary without splashing the place with blood and guts, and showing how closely darkness and romance can be entwined at times, something I definitely draw a lot from in my work. Sylvia Plath’s imagery and her way of examining and depicting her struggles with emotional and mental health have also influenced both my poetry and fiction, which occasionally deal with my own struggles with those same demons, and Florence Welch, Lana Del Rey, and Jim Morrison, although much of their work comes from the musical end of the writing spectrum, have also heavily influenced me in terms of language, imagery, experimentation, and rhythm and sound, again in both my poetry and fiction.
What are some writing tips you’ve received over the years you feel have helped you improve your writing?
“Show, don’t tell” has been a big one (even if, to be honest, I still get paranoid over whether or not I’m telling when I should be showing, and can I just explain this one thing or should I find a way to describe it, and oh god am I showing too much now?)—writerly anxiety attacks aside, I use it to remind myself to describe stuff and let the reader figure it out for themselves; I don’t always need to explain it all to them myself. Another one is to “just write,” which sounds pretty obvious and, sure, I guess it kinda is, but when you’re sitting there paralyzed by a blank page, whether because you know what to write but can’t get it straight in your head, or you’re afraid it’ll come out horrible, or you just haven’t done it in a while, it’s one of the first things that flies out of your head (trust me, I’m talking from painfully-recent experience here). Maybe what you write will suck; maybe it’ll even suck hard. But once you get something down on paper, you can work on fixing it and getting it just where you want it to be; if you never actually get anything down, or even try to, there’s nothing to fix, just an abyss you’ll fall deeper and deeper into, and that’s an even worse feeling than something not coming out quite the way you wanted it to, at least in my experience. Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art,” his commencement speech at the University of the Arts Class of 2012, has also provided a wealth of advice for me, including the bit that gave rise to the speech’s title and essentially tells those of us who work in creative fields to, well, make good art, no matter what— “Somebody on the internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art.”, for example. No matter what, do what you want to do and make what you want to make, even if you’re not fully sure you can or other people keep telling you you can’t, even if you make a fuckton of mistakes along the way—especially if you’re making mistakes along the way. I honestly can’t recommend that speech enough.
What are you currently reading? How’s it going—recommend, or no?
Right now I’m reading Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Eagle, the first novel he published about his series character Richard Sharpe, a British rifleman in the Napoleonic Wars; it’s a bit of a departure from my normal reading material, since even when I read historical novels they tend to have some horror or fantasy bent to them, while this is a purely historical read with nary a ghoulie or ghostie in sight. But I would definitely recommend it; it’s entertaining as hell, well-researched and -written, and Sharpe has quickly become one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. I can’t wait to dive into the rest of the series and see what other scrapes he gets into (and out of).
If you had the chance to see one musician/group live in concert, living or dead, who would it be and at what point in their career would it be?
The first answer that popped into mind (“exploded like a fucking firecracker” would probably be a more accurate description) was The Doors. I’ve loved their music my whole life, and one of my biggest disappointments has always been that I was born too late to see them live. As to what point in their career it would be, I’d have to say during The Doors/Strange Days period, because that’s where so many of my favorite songs of theirs come from—and of course it’d be awesome to see them during their time at the Whisky a Go Go. All hail the Lizard King!
What should we look for from you in the near future?
My poem “Learning the Way” has been nominated for a 2021 Rhysling Award, and so it’ll be appearing in the award anthology when it’s released. “Learning the Way” is actually from a poetry collection I’ve been working on for some time, telling a story from the characters’ childhoods, and I’m hoping to get that collection finished and out in the world soon. Aside from that, everything’s still sort of up in the air, but hopefully that novel and some of those short stories I mentioned earlier will make their way to the reading public before too long.
Sarah Cannavo is a writer of prose and poetry living in southern New Jersey. Her poems and short stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines such as Schlock! Horror!, The Devil’s Hour, The Literary Hatchet, Liminality, Horror USA: California, Deranged, Obliquatur Voluptas, Ghosts, Spirits, and Specters, Star*Line, Ghost Stories For Starless Nights, The Society of Misfit Stories, Hookman and Friends, and The Cryptid Chronicles; her poem “The 5 Stages of Being on Hold” won third place in the 2018 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest and her poems “Fallen But Not Down” and “Learning the Way” were nominated for the 2020 and 2021 Rhysling Awards, respectively. Her story “Unreality” and novella Wolf of the Pines are available now on Amazon. She sometimes manages to write about these and other projects on her site, The Moody Muse (www.moodilymusing.blogspot.