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Cover Reveal: The Secret Skin by Wendy N. Wagner (incl. bonus convo with Anya Ow!)

Note: We’re so excited! We love doing these and working with Neon Hemlock Press. When I showed the cover to our Krew, there was discussion of a fight to the death over the need for this book… We hope you love it as much as we did!!

The Secret Skin is a sawmill gothic that begins with June Vogel’s return to Storm Break, her family’s estate. Things in the great house aren’t what they used to be. Doors slam in the night. Faucets turn on, untouched. Something is always watching, whatever June does. And when her brother returns with his new bride, deceit and betrayal threaten to destroy everything she loves.

The Secret Skin

Pre-order The Secret Skin and the rest of the 2021 Novella Series in May on Kickstarter.

Novella Publication Date: October 26th, 2021

in paperback and ebook

Website: / Contact [email protected]

Neon Hemlock’s 2021 Novella Series. Kickstarter launching May 1. Learn more about the series.

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In conversation: Anya Ow and Wendy N. Wagner on Horror

Anya:  As far as classic novels, when I first heard one of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, I didn’t know it for his at the time. It’d been heavily cribbed by an older cousin during a Lunar New Year reunion family gathering, where everyone our age were passing the time seeing who could tell each other the scariest ghost stories. The cousin’s description of a wrinkled hand that could scuttle, spider-like, up walls and into bedrooms to strangle the unsuspecting had me sleeping with a pillow tucked over my neck for weeks. It was years later, in secondary school (high school) when I found a book of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories in the school library and recognised the story for what it was.

His stories scared me all over again when I read them, but they didn’t lurk in the recesses of my mind like the following stories have, peering back at me through mirrors and waiting down long dark corridors for me to turn my back.

Wendy:  I was born in 1978, the same year Anne Rivers Siddons’ The House Next Door was released. It’s not an unheard-of novel—Stephen King really talks it up in Danse Macabre (which is how I found the book)—but it’s certainly not as famous as a lot of novels by writers of her same era. It doesn’t help the book any that it’s Siddons’ only horror novel. She mostly wrote books about Southern women living Southern lives, and I suppose The House Next Door falls into that same category. The difference is that it’s also about a house that is full of evil. It’s not exactly haunted; it’s a brand-new mansion built by a budding architect. It just happens to be the house equivalent of Stephen King’s The Outsider: an evil being that wishes to cause as much harm as it possibly can.

The house is the star of the story, but another part of the book’s charm is the way it captures a certain upper middle class lifestyle that no longer exists. Everyone is softly snobbish and a borderline alcoholic, educated, interesting, and a little annoying. It would be a comedy of manners if it weren’t a tip-top scary story. If you love haunted house stories, this is a nicely different take on the genre.

Anya:  I don’t know if this is considered a classic, given the latest in the series (the 26th) came out last year, but Russell Lee’s True Singapore Ghost Stories was first published in 1989, and has since sold over 1.5 million copies. It’s the all-time best-selling local book series in Singapore according to the Singapore Book of Records, and it was everywhere while I was growing up. Each book has about 30 stories, which span a number of different types of horror topics set across Southeast Asia.

It’s a wildly entertaining read, difficult to put down, and the source of many of my nightmares when I was young. The books have been adapted to TV and also a haunted house special during Universal Studios Singapore’s Halloween Horror Nights. Adding to the books’ air of mystery, the author remains anonymous, even now. While ‘Russell Lee’ has held book signings in person, it’s always in a ski mask, hat, coat, and gloves — a true commitment to privacy in an equatorial country with near 100% humidity and a temperature that often lingers around 31ºC. 

As with many Singaporeans, Russell’s books were my first introduction to horror, and I still remember them fondly. I look forward to reading the latest — during the daytime and in the sun, maybe even with the lights on.

Wendy:  That sounds amazing! I’m always looking for new scary things to read. Did you read any horror last year that you’d recommend?

Anya:  2020 was a cursed year in many ways. To think now that I started it in the middle of Australia’s fire apocalypse and thought it couldn’t get any worse. My attempts to get through my endless to-read list suffered during the year, but I did pick up a few memorable horror/horror-adjacent books, including Claire G. Coleman’s dark science fiction novel Terra Nullius, and Victor LaValle’s excellent horror fantasy, The Changeling.

My favourite horror read for the cursed year of 2020 is a Stephen Graham Jones book, The Only Good Indians. It’s an incredible read, with one of the most visceral, gory scenes I have ever seen in a book. Even thinking back about it now makes me shudder. The book is about four American Indian men after a hunting incident that goes badly wrong, a gripping revenge story with contemporary social commentary, with many characters you can’t help but root for—even when they start destroying each other. I won’t spoil it, but there are parts of The Only Good Indians that are going to stay with me for a long time, like shrapnel from a broken elk’s antler.

What’s another of your favorites?

Wendy:  I am a giant fan of the haunted house genre, so it makes sense that one of my other favorites is Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger (2009). It’s the story of a struggling country doctor who returns to the region where he grew up, only to find himself making a house call at the manor where his mother worked as a housekeeper. The doctor is drawn into the troubles of the fallen gentry and as the story unfolds, creepy and terrible things begin to happen. Is the house haunted or is the main character simply an obsessed creep? Either way, it’s a darkly delicious book.

Anything you’re looking forward to reading in 2021?

Anya:  This year’s only just begun, and it looks set to be maybe as chaotic as the last. This month, I picked up an unsettling book by Kazuki Sakuraba, A Small Charred Face. It’s a hard read with difficult themes for me, but it’s also in part a found family story about queer grass monster vampires. No happy endings anywhere in sight, sadly, but the twist on a familiar trope is engaging, and the characters compelling. Traced through an arc of two generations only to rewind to a story before the beginning, A Small Charred Face follows different characters to sketch out its tightly-knit world.

Has anything stood out for you recently?

Wendy:  I can’t say enough good stuff about T. Kingfisher’s 2019 novel The Twisted Ones. While it’s not strictly a haunted house novel (see! I do read other genres!), a house plays an oversized role in this incredibly unsettling Weird tale—it’s the story of a woman’s attempt to clean out her hoarder grandmother’s revolting home … while discovering that her step-grandfather was involved in some bizarre, unworldly shit. While reading it, I knocked the waffle maker out of a cupboard and nearly had a breakdown. If you want to be terrified of both your household appliances and every noise outside your home, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. (PS: It is also, amazingly enough, hilarious.)

Born in Singapore, Anya Ow moved to Melbourne to practice law, and now works in advertising. Her short stories have appeared in venues such as Strange Horizons, Uncanny, and Daily SF. She can be found on twitter @anyasy and otherwise at Her novella Cradle and Grave is part of Neon Hemlock’s 2020 Novella Series.

Wendy N. Wagner is the author of the horror novel The Deer Kings (forthcoming summer 2021). Her previous work includes the SF thriller An Oath of Dogs, plus two novels for the Pathfinder role-playing game, and over fifty short stories, essays, and poems. A Hugo award-winning editor of short fiction, she is also the incoming editor of Nightmare Magazine. She lives in Oregon with her very understanding family, two large cats, and a small dog that might be a Muppet. You can keep up with her at Her novella The Secret Skin is part of Neon Hemlock’s 2021 Novella Series.

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