Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi 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. (Continued at end of interview.)
Talking with Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi
Sci-FI & Scary: On your website, you introduce yourself as “a published author, writer, author, journalist, editor, marketer, public relations professional, and photographer”. That’s quite a lot of balls in the air, although some of them obviously go hand-in-hand. Could you take us through a typical day for you?
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: Actually, I don’t really think I can! For the 20 years I’ve been doing all of that, while raising three kids at home without caregiver assistance for the last 9, or the previous 7 when I was practically a single mom in an abusive marriage taking care of my babies while working 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. at an outside job – in marketing and public relations which included much editing, writing, media work, event planning -(then with caregiver during work hours) nothing has been typical or normal or scheduled.
It seems like yesterday I was running my business out of my home (mostly for local businesses – retail, non-profit, etc.) while also teaching my third child her pre-school lessons at age 3 and 4 (I home-schooled her for it; she survived – went to Kindergarten at just barely 5 and now in 5th grade has tested into and thrives in the talented and gifted program) and was committed to working on my fiction writing in the late evenings (something I had wanted to do since I got out of college but honestly never had one more ounce of energy to do given circumstances), to now, having been also working doing editing, publicity, and consulting in the publishing world for almost the last 7 years. Authors in the horror genre I had met online were asking me for help, and at first, I did help after my normal work hours for free, but it became a lot, and since it was my course of study, my career, and such, I thought why not do it for authors too. I saw authors as their own small business needing to build their brand, just like the kid’s clothing retailer or the bed and breakfast I was working with at the time. I couldn’t do it without making money, because I needed to work, I had kids to feed, nor should every author demand so much free work. The blog is one thing, to a degree, but all I was taking on was not allowing me to work enough hours at my regular freelance jobs or to write. And I really enjoyed working with books and authors the most.
I still have trouble now fitting in my own writing, but glad I did last year and that I was able to finally publish my collection and some stories too. I guess you could say I am still searching after all these years for a balance. Life hasn’t been easy on us personally for so many reasons, though I try to stay positive online, but I feel blessed to have my talents I can use. It’s just hard not to get burned out.
So, yes, I do all those things on a daily basis, and for a very long time also cooked a big Sunday meal every single night, hand washed dishes from 5, did laundry for 5, always participated in my kid’s school parties, helped my partner coach soccer and t-ball teams with kids ages 4 and 5, and I could go on. We still drive the kids quite a way to school and back, and they are still busy, but they are a bit older now, and I do less cooking and cleaning to get all the work done, but basically, I just rotate the duties based on deadlines or priorities, putting myself last, more often than not lately my kids, but that’s about to change again.
I work from early morning to late at night, well beyond full-time hours, and a lot of it unpaid, but when you work full-time hours a day to pay the bills (over), everything after that should be about your kids and health, that should come first, so I’m trying to get that back but the publishing world is demanding. Your family and your health should always come first, I know, but work is a necessity and it owns everyone. The photography I used to do a lot more in my previous jobs, where there was more a market for it or I did it at my workplace or for non-profits, so now it’s mostly a hobby I love. I could do them for book covers, blogs, or online sites, but it’s not often asked and I’m not pushing it with all else I have to do. I like to pair them with my own writings though sometimes. It’s one that often takes a back seat. Of course, seasonally, I do a bit more of it in the spring, summer, and fall.
Bottom line: very hard to be scheduled in my life. No day is the same. I work morning, afternoon, evenings, and late night right now. I try to balance out what is needed at home and for work every day, every week, based on what’s coming up. I do a little bit of everything every single day.
Sci-FI & Scary: What drew you to working in the marketing and PR side of things?
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: I have a degree in Journalism as well as English. In some courses of study, as mine was, it’s very intensive and includes editing and public relations in the course work, as well as media relations. I did my final year internship in a public information office for the State of Ohio, which included at that time press releases, editing and writing a newsletter, taking photos, running events, etc. I live in a rural area, and couldn’t move right away, so I ended up working as reference librarian for a while out of school, for which I did, when not helping customers, themed book displays, and I also contacted local media about upcoming book additions and events. I loved it and should have never left it, but when a business owner who had done my professional resume out of college repeatedly sought me out to help him grow that business, I was saw it as an opportunity toward growth in another career field and a chance to write more, so I took it, and became a marketing consultant.
Eventually, I became pregnant unexpectedly (but joyfully), and after staying home with my son for two years (and writing fiction and poetry), I took a job in marketing and public relations for a healthcare system where I was for almost a decade. This was a job I did a lot of almost everything. As well, I did public relations and marketing for a hot air balloon festival that has national recognition and worked for many non-profit organizations on boards and committees offering my expertise in the field. I have a laundry list on LinkedIn. My resume is long. So, it’s naturally been my career – I can cover bases in so much due to my schooling and my experiences and I’ve worked very hard to have the knowledge and know-how I do. My Journalism background was a natural for PR work if you like better hours, which I wanted with having children.
I like working in books, and feel again, that it’s like any business I’ve done work for in the past as each publisher and author is their own brand and business too, but I do feel I have to repeatedly keep fighting for myself and defending myself—mostly proving myself. I’ve always done all the things I do for work since college. 20 years now. I’m getting too old to keep explaining myself. I want to just work and get some shit done.
Sci-FI & Scary: I know from talking with you that you do a lot of editing and publicist work for small presses and individual authors. Could you name a few that you’re currently working with so authors can get a feel for if they should reach out to you or not for your services?
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: I work directly for Sinister Grin Press as an editor and doing marketing and publicity, public relations and advertising, and a host of other things like coordination of some of the cover art and working with authors on all the facets that go into publishing a book (lots of explaining, consulting, teaching, informing, discussing with authors); and as well, Raw Dog Screaming Press, where I’m just getting started, but handling marketing, PR, publicity, media relations, etc. For a year after Bloodshot Books was just getting off the ground, I worked with the publisher to help gain exposure for his authors, new and veteran alike. With the veterans, I did a lot of consulting and teaching of the new way of promotion since the dawn of the Internet (social media, blogs, how to even write articles, etc.) and tried to find new ways for readers and reviewers to want to take a look at republished works once popular in the 1980s but that needed (and deserved) new life.
As for authors: Ronald Malfi, Hunter Shea, Stephanie Wytovich, Glenn Rolfe, Todd Keisling, Brian Kirk, Lisa Manetti, Greg Gifune, David Bernstein, to name a few. I’ve touched many sub-genres and writing styles with my promo work. I work with them ongoing or in spurts or projects. I work with them personally, and sometimes, they’re also published by a press I work for, which is doubly good. There is ebb and flow depending on what’s coming out, because most can’t afford to put me on retainer each month, though that would be best in my opinion. It’s not that I’m expensive, but more so, I can’t get them to grasp the idea of it, or often, even a little is too much, and I don’t have a ton of time being so busy, that I can only take on so much free work. With editing, I enjoy working with new and emerging writers, too, like Somer Canon, Chris Kosarich, Ken McKinley, Russell Coy, Tom Clark, and a host of others, to teach them, help them, support them. I enjoy editing and working with various styles of writing and sub-categories in horror and other genres as well.
Sci-FI & Scary: Your debut collection of poetry and short stories Breathe. Breathe. has done quite well. How hard was it for you to go from polishing other people’s works and/or promoting them to putting your own stuff out there? I’d have been a nervous wreck!
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: Not that hard really, I suppose, because I always knew myself as a writer first. I’ve been writing all sorts of things for years, just tended to have to pay the bills writing in a more non-fiction style or editing/promoting works by others, priority-wise. I think that reading, whether books by others that are published or books I’m editing, helps me to write too. Promoting is something I like the least, though I do get passionate and excited about the work of others. My passion has always come from a love of books and a genuine happiness for the success of others. It was like second nature to me to publish, method wise, but once it got closer, it was harder. BUT only for some of the subject matter. Being in a domestic violence situation, having past assault trauma, aren’t things people want to talk about and many can’t understand. I still think most people aren’t very compassionate about the internal place specifically Breathe. Breathe. came from and how long I had held it close inside me. It helped heal me, and that’s what mattered to me, but I suppose, as a private person it was more being nervous about the themes. That and the fact that I knew a lot of people would snub the poetry or not understand my style. I knew some would say it made them uncomfortable. Mostly, honestly, I was afraid no one would be excited for me or share my works because they saw me as a “promoter” and not needing help. Well, it’s not easy to promote your own books, even if you are a promoter, because what it takes to succeed in indie horror, is enough OTHER people sharing it to create a buzz. Luckily, many people were happy for me and shared it and are still sharing it. I’m so much less nervous now, especially after so many positive reviews and good feedback. It was a hurdle to get over, to do for myself, and I’m very proud I did.
Now on the other end of it, I think publishing as much as I have in these last 12 months HAS given me a new look at promotion and other skill sets needed to do my job, which is invaluable to me as well. But overall, I much like writing better than my jobs and I long when I have a few spare minutes to allow time for my own passions.
Sci-FI & Scary: “The Heart of the Orchard”, your short story included in the Hardened Hearts anthology from Unnerving, had a definite fairy-tale feel to it. Are you a fan of fairy-tales?
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: Yes, I’ve always been a reader of fairy tales since very young and they are a strong influence on me and my writing. I prefer the grim ones, and the Grimm ones (LOL), Hans Christian Andersen, and also, folklore from many different countries. I don’t always intend for my stories or writing to have that pieces, but sometimes it either seeps in or my story has a mind of its own. I like a lot of fantasy which plays into this too. I am a genre blender. I often blend horror, fantasy, sci-fiction, mystery, and thriller all into my work. Breathe. Breathe. is a perfect example of my blending of genres and categories, though I say I’m probably a literary writer blending styles more than I am a writer within a certain genre. I think fairy tales do this, and the name can be a bit misleading to some, as you know, since they can be very dark. I suppose I am more a fan of folklore and legends, though I do have a fondness for tales like Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Snow Queen, Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, and the list goes on. I was thrilled when the latest review for my story in Hardened Hearts said it was Rumpelstiltskin-like (Thanks, Sadie!). I didn’t intend it, but there he was – in the middle of all that girl’s trauma, appearing and demanded peaches. People have described some of my other work as reading in a fairy tale style as well, even if the subject matter wasn’t so nice.
Sci-FI & Scary: Do you think you’ll ever try your hand at a novel-length work?
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: I’ve been writing a few for over 9 years now. One is historical fiction, which will take forever and is taking forever, due to the research and development involved and my time being limited. The other literary revenge novel will move faster but has been halted at every turn by my overworked days and life issues. It’s not that I don’t want to write novels, I just think it will come later in life. Any time outside of work that I have goes into my three kids, who means so much to me. My son graduates high school this year and my daughters are getting older. Time is short with them now and they are most important. I love to write short stories and poems and play with words. It’s easier for me to find a tiny bit of time for this than to climb that mountain of a novel. Because to me, I’ll want to make my novel perfect, not just churn it out, so it’s not a goal I feel I can reach in the next two years. A novella possibly, or a collection, but not a novel.
Sci-FI & Scary: Is your family supportive of your writing endeavors?
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: Speaking my children, absolutely. They push me to do it for myself and not feel guilty. They help me tremendously. They are 18, 14, and 10. They beta-read my writing and offer the best view points back. They are happy for me, cry with me, and understand me. I’m so lucky to have them. They are all readers and writers as well. We are all very creative. I couldn’t have done Breathe. Breathe. or even “The Heart of the Orchard” without them, or Tim. Tim, my partner of 13 years, is also very supportive of my writing, especially in the last few years. In the past, I’ve picked up slack with the kids and home so that he could, for instance, go back to acting and perform at the local university in their production of Wizard of Oz, or even before that, I supported his endeavors on his novels and shorter works. I put all my energy into work and home. I spent a lot my creative juices doing things with my kids like going to the library, doing crafts, reading, baking, etc. in between work, and it was enough for me. But now, as they are older – still busy, but doing their own thing too – writing for me seemed to have said “it’s time.” And he’s been nothing but my biggest fan and picked up more home slack. He also edits my work which is a plus, as he’s been an editor for over 20 years himself. Where my strength is content editing, his lies in the rules and grammar, so we make a good team. As for the rest of either of our families, I don’t think we’ve been overly supported in our writing, whether for work or as a creative outlet or pursuit. We often feel like we always have something more to prove and just aren’t good enough. We are very misunderstood.
Sci-FI & Scary: We’re doing this interview because February is when we celebrate Women in Horror. You are entwined more deeply in the horror scene than someone who just writes and publishes would be. From your perspective, do you think the imbalance between men and women writers in the genre is getting better?
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: Last year, I answered this question with a happy and resounding yes. This year, I feel everything has changed and it doesn’t make me feel good. I see the male authors, even clients, hugging and boasting and patting each other and being in these weird sort of cliques, at rate I’ve not seen before. I see them adding women on lists or a brief nudge on social media if a book come out or it’s February 1, but you know as a token one or two – always the same ones – and it feels sickening. It feels like all we did to say we matter too, because you shouldn’t see gender, all of a sudden has back-fired. It’s like coupled with the sexual harassment issues of time, they all got scared to support us or promote us or see our worth or even be our friends. It’s made me harsh and turned me bitter and made me a little bitchier than my normal happy, loving self. They know we write books, they know we are there, they feel they HAVE to support us sometimes, but it’s only because they HAVE to, not just because they enjoy our work.
This is how you read and promote and help women, you just read them second nature just like a man. You don’t only read your friends. You make it a non-issue. Does that make sense? It doesn’t seem to compute to so many and I am not sure how to fix it. I think there will always be this fear between sexes. Fear of women in general, low self-esteem, the need for buddy reinforcement, the need to not make your wife mad. But sometimes, honestly, it’s the other women who are the least supportive of other women, and that sucks too. Jealously, low self-esteem, and a host of other issues plays into this as well.
I feel sad it’s happening, but the world is in an uproar and it feels everywhere like it’s man against woman and woman against woman and basically all MEN for themselves, followed by the women who desire to be validated by men. I hope I don’t piss anyone off saying all this, but it’s the first time in seven years I’ve felt it, and it sucks.
Go to other genres I read, work, write reviews in – like historical fiction, and you won’t find this happening. All the women are supportive of each other and a good majority of the men too. But I do know this has always been an issue in the sci-fi and fantasy genres too. Too bad it’s horror. Some women will say it’s always been an issue. I was maybe blind, or too much friends with the male writers, but now, I feel alone as a woman. Ask me one thing I hate, and it’s a “good ole boy club” or a “mean girls clique.”
Sci-FI & Scary: Who are some of your favorite women horror writers?
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: Of all time, I’d say Shirley Jackson, Daphne Du Maurier, early V.C. Andrews, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Currently, I’d say Ania Ahlborn.
Sci-FI & Scary: What is your all-time favorite horror movie? What about horror book?
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: I don’t know if I have a favorite horror movie. I only watch the suspenseful, psychological ones. Mostly my favorites might be Hitchcock movies. I liked The VVitch, Hush, The Invitation, and Silence of the Lambs. I watch more T.V. – all sorts of things, but I like things like Channel Zero, Black Mirror, Hannibal, and even Vampire Diaries.
As for a book, I always find it hard to pick one. I like elements from lots of different books. I am not a re-reader or re-watcher sort of person. I get a buzz from the initial encounter that’s not reproduced for me. I have a few favorite books in a wide array of genres. I’d say one of my top ten books of all time I like is Dead of Winter by Brian Moreland and that’s horror for sure! A must read, if you haven’t! Other favorites are: The House at the End of the Lane and Coraline by Neil Gaiman, Cradle Lake by Ronald Malfi, and by Stephen King, the book Dolores Claiborne and Duma Key first come to mind. I don’t know if this fits here, but I love books by Ruth Ware, which are more psychological thrillers. I’m a huge fan of Agatha Christie. I see horror in lots of different things, as well, things are horrifying!
Sci-FI & Scary: What do you think about the assertion that genre fiction isn’t ‘real’ literary work?
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: I don’t know. Maybe before there was a difference between literary fiction and genre fiction. Maybe genre fiction authors felt snubbed by literary fiction authors. I think now there is a lot of blending. I think there are great literary works within genre fiction and published by small press. I am not a fan of anyone or any work fitting in a box, so I’m happy when people just write what comes out of them and not try to fit in a box.
Sci-FI & Scary: What do you have in the hopper now in regards to your writing?
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi: Currently, though going slowly, I’m working on poetry collection that’s water-based and a blending of styles and categories again (horror, fantasy, etc.). Water is huge part of what heals my soul and so much can be found in its depth, whether in streams or oceans or lakes or just inside all of us.
I had been working on a short story collection based on the works of Van Gogh, who is one of my favorite artists of all time. “The Heart of the Orchard” was initially meant for that collection, albeit a little different, so it took some elements from a story/painting there, but I’ve been very excited about it mostly because it simply makes me happy to work on it or think about it.
I’m writing a novella stemming from the Vahalla Lane series in Breathe. Breathe. – working through pieces of it to discover whether it will be a back story of one of the abused women, or the continuation of the story of one of the survivors who would now be considered missing or wanted for a crime OR whether it’s about the OTHER fourth neighbor who poked her head slightly out to me and said, “Hey, me too.” Or, I could end up writing both. I don’t know where it will take me, I don’t plan these things.
With passion, I agreed to be the guest co-editor with publisher Eddie Generous, of Unnerving, for a Gothic poetry and short story collection called Haunted are these Houses, for which submissions will open February 28 and run to April 28, culminating in a published anthology in September 2018. We will be mixing vintage Gothic poetry and stories with those by current talent.
I’d love to be asked to write stories and poems for more magazines and anthologies, but maybe I’ll have to write and submit ongoing, just to keep my momentum going.
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.
Amazon Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/Breathe-Erin-Sweet-Al-Mehairi-ebook/dp/B076C3YSLC/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8
Also available via Barnes and Noble and other fine online retailers.
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
“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
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi Biography, continued:
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 Achivement 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 and holding in the Top 100 best-sellers there and in horror short stories for the three months since 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.
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.