An Interview with Inna Effress

An Interview with Inna Effress

The writing of Inna Effress has been called spellbinding and lyrical in every arena.  Weird Little Worlds Press was honored to spend a few minutes chatting with Inna about how her views on life, writing, and horror have fueled her creative process.


Q: What is one question that you get asked a lot? What is a question you wish people would ask you more?

A: When people find out that I emigrated from Ukraine as a child, they ask me what I remember. Usually I tell them about my Kindergarten experience. At the time, Ukraine was part of the USSR, and I learned to speak Russian at school and at home. We kids were taught that Vladimir Lenin was our grandfather – we called him our “Dedushka” Lenin. Every day, we stood together, taking a solemn moment of silence under a portrait of him. Girls who were caught talking during silent time or nap time were called up to the front of the room, where a matronly woman yanked off our pants. Boys who misbehaved had their heads shaved.

That mass-produced image of Lenin has stuck in my mind’s eye through the years. Recently, through the research of a distant cousin in New York, I discovered that one of our family members was Lenin’s speech doctor after his stroke in 1924. 


Q: Please answer your second question above. 🙂

A: People who know me sometimes ask me this, but I wish more people would talk me about motherhood. More than anything else, being a mom to my three teens is my reason for being. What makes me most proud, besides the kids’ kindness, is that all three of them are creators. My daughter’s a visual artist, film maker, and photographer, my older son scores music for film and composes pieces for jazz ensembles by working them out on his piano, and my youngest is consumed by robotics and building. I’m really lucky that I get to live with and learn from these inventive creatures with beautiful hearts!


Q: Your day job is as a speech writer. What is one of the most moving speeches you’ve ever heard, and how has it impacted you?

A: Elie Wiesel’s 1999 speech, The Perils Of Indifference. When I was in middle school, I learned details about the Holocaust and the Nazis by reading Wiesel’s memoir, Night. The book changed my life forever, and I began to study everything I could about the Holocaust. His speeches are some of the most quoted and taught in classrooms, from high school to the university level. This particular speech has memorable personal anecdotes, natural use of repetition, and most of all, in it he asks his audience a total of 26 rhetorical questions: (“Does it mean that we have learned from the past? Does it mean that society has changed? Has the human being become less indifferent and more human? Have we really learned from our experiences?” And so on…) The questions, I think, leave the listener no choice but to engage deeply with the speech and sit with the discomfort of it and of the meaning of indifference.


Q: You were born in the Ukraine, and that has had a huge influence on your writing. What is a special memory of your time in the Ukraine that informs your writing? 

A: I’ll answer this by pointing to a favorite Soviet literary influence, since I already did some reminiscing before reading this question!

One of my earliest memories is of lying in my bed every night as my mom read aloud Korney Chukovsky’s children’s poem, “Tarakanishche” (The Monster Cockroach). I couldn’t get enough of the feeling of terror that this story evoked, and this led to my obsession with other, dark Soviet mythologies. Baba Yaga, all the ghosts, the villains, the absolute madness, and eventually I fell in love with Gogol’s superstitions and legends, with the stories of Bulgakov, of Turgenev, and of course, Chekhov.


Q: If you could invent an ice cream flavor based on your personality, what would it taste like?

A: I had a fiancee once in my twenties whose favorite aunt, Lois, used to call me her sweet-and-sour girl. So I’d have to say my flavor would be a sweet and sour, saucy ice cream with a truth-bomb topping.


Q: If you could go back in time and talk to the young Inna, what is one thing you would tell her? Would you warn her, uplift her, or both? 

A: Teenage Inna sure could’ve used some wisdom and hard insight into the future. I’d have a very serious sit-down with her and tell her to stop wasting time. I’d also tell her that nobody’s opinion matters but hers when it comes to choosing her path. It might be necessary to shake her by the shoulders a bit, just to get the point across. 


Q: What was the worst writing advice you ever received?

A: Not to write in first person. Because of that advice, and the way it sank in, the closest I’ve ever come was a poem in first-person, but plural. The piece is about war and indoctrination, and it’s coming out soon, in FOLIO’s horror issue. Maybe seeing it out in the wild will give me the courage to get over my imagined limitations. 


Q: You’ve revealed before that you think you’re a slow writer. What advice do you have for other writers who don’t have a huge output of words?

A: Honestly, the only thing that matters is to write, and to do it at your own speed and in your style. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Comparing myself to other writers probably slowed me down even more, not to mention, it wasted a lot of scarce energy. 


Q: What’s your favorite piece of horror fiction, both book and movie?

A: Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a movie I turn to again and again. Besides the incredible directing and its surprising turns, in a twisted way it reminds me of my own family, of immigration, of everything we have to do to lift each other up just to survive another day.

As far as literature, it’s hard to pick just one favorite, so I’ll mention my first love as an adult reader: Rikki Ducornet’s The Complete Butcher’s Tales. Creepy, evocative imagery, gorgeous, sensual language. Her sentences are to die for. I’ll never forget how this story collection transformed me, in a matter of days.


Q: What will you be creating next?

A: Both my grandfather and Elie Wiesel were born in Romania; both were forced to endure horrors while imprisoned in concentration camp. My grandparents met in a camp, and a year after liberation, my mother was born. I’m writing a book inspired by my mother’s father and his experience as a poker player given special favors by the camp guards, who had a bad card habit.


Inna Effress is a speechwriter, fiction writer, and poet who emigrated from Ukraine to the United States. Her work appears in numerous publications, including FOLIO, CutBank, Air/Light Magazine, Santa Monica Review, Swan River Press’s Uncertainties series, and Strange Tales at 30 (Tartarus Press), among others. Her fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and reprinted in The Best Horror Of The Year. Inna writes for grassroots organizations and leaders in California that are working to bring equitable outcomes to their communities. She and her husband, David Effress, live with their three kids, all creatives to the core.
An Interview with Donyae Coles

An Interview with Donyae Coles

Donyae Coles is a strong and unique voice in the horror writing community. Her life is fueled by art, writing, and her kids. (Not necessarily in that order.) She sits down with the Weird Little Worlds team and shares some of the creative outlets she uses to form a lyrical balance between real-life issues and powerful genre fiction.


Q: What is the question everyone seems to ask you about your writing process or published works that you dread the most? What do you wish they would ask instead?

A: I get asked some variation of how or why I got into writing and I’m just like, you know, the normal way. I wish more people would ask me about my plans outside of the genre, if I wanted to write more than horror? 


Q: Please answer the question you just told us to ask. 🙂

A: Everything is horror, darling. 

No, but I do plan to branch out into the other genres. I love horror, I love it so much but I want to write some epic fantasies and space operas. Maybe a thriller or two. And it’s not that horror is less than as some articles would have you think, it’s just because I have a lot of ideas and I want to explore. 

But I’ll never stop writing spooky stories because horror is my soulmate.  


Q: You do painting and writing. Do you usually just work on one or do you find yourself switching back and forth? What does that depend on?

A: I work on them at the same time! Well, not the exact same time, I only have two hands. I paint and draw throughout the day and write during longer stretches of time. I maintain a pretty stable art practice. The reasoning isn’t anything romantic or artistic, it’s just practical a lot of the time. I can do some art while I’m helping with lessons during the day whereas I can’t write when I’m supposed to be overseeing math. So writing is during those chunks of time where I don’t have those responsibilities. 

But also sometimes my brain just says, we painting today and I just gotta. 


Q: Anyone who follows your twitter knows you spend time with kids, your own and others. How does that shape/affect your artistic work?

A: The children, they are always around. In a practical sense, it determines the flow of my day because I do homeschool but like it’s fine mostly because I’m not really functional in the morning anyway. 

But it does bleed into the work because I spent a large chunk of my life working as a caregiver for children and I have children but honestly what it did was made me hyperaware of self and the factors around me because caregiver and mother are things that eat your identity. And the balancing act of being a good mother and not losing myself to motherhood really helped identify the kinds of stories I was interested in telling and the way that I wanted to tell them. 

My being a mother is why I’m still a writer and artist. I viciously pursued those things because I refuse to lose them. I have to prioritize my art, my work as important and vital or else it simply will not exist. If I had never had kids, I doubt I would have become what I am now, I certainly wouldn’t have written some of the work I’ve had published. 

Also, kids have the best horror ideas.  


Q: You’ve said your debut novel, Midnight Rooms, is in the publishing pipeline. How did you react when you got your deal? How do you feel about it now?

A: I didn’t even think it was real, I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop because it was just too fantastic. They want MY book?? LOL stop playin. I won publishing?? Which is to say, I was very excited

I’m still excited. Even with the delays and such (my book was affected by the HarperCollins strike) I’m still excited. I can’t wait for you all to get a chance to read it! It’s coming spring of 2024. 


Q: Are there any similarities between your visual art process and your writing process?

A: They are both driven by a sort of frenzied hyperfocus and follow the same sort of timeline. First, get idea, two, briefly plan idea, three execute. Obviously it takes me much longer to write something than to paint it. Well, that’s not true. Short stories exist and are valid. 

But most of my paintings are done in one or two sittings. The bulk of my work is written in hours long stretches deep into the night (nighttime is when no one bothers you). 


Q: You’ve said before that your first dream job was to be an artist, when did you start pursuing that and how?

A: Alright so, my oldest two kids’ dad had walked out and I was very sad, understandably so, I had two kids under the age of two and like, what now?? I was on MySpace and I met this woman in a parenting group, her name was Nataki and she was gassing me up talking to me about Octavia E. Butler and reminding me that I was a full human being. We didn’t even really talk after this single encounter. 

I was able to get my shit together and move to a new city in PA where I started working in a daycare my cousin owned. It was a job, my kids could attend while I worked, what I needed right then. Nataki came in one day to teach an art class. I had no idea we were living in the same city or that she even knew my cousin. Total chance meeting. At that point she invites me to a workshop she was holding. 

Changed my life. That’s when I really started buying art supplies, treating this dream I had since I was little like A REAL THING. See how integral being a mother and a caregiver is to my life’s story arc? 


Q: What story you’ve told has scared you the most?

A: “Lights” in Paranormal Contact from Cemetery Gates Media. That one scares the shit out of me. But the stories that are really the scariest to me I haven’t written yet. 


Q: If your art (writing and/or painting) had an ice cream flavor, what would it be?

A: Vanilla I think. What a lovely trick it’s played on the world to make everyone think it’s boring and simple. But vanilla is rich, complex, difficult and despite what you may think due to the presentation of ice cream, is black as hell. 


Q: What will you be creating next?

A: The next book! Always the next book. I’ve got some other things brewing though!  But I also do have my first YA venture coming out in the anthology All These Sunken Souls which is up for preorder. 

Donyae Coles is an artist and a writer whose work is speculative in nature. Her writing is lyrical and haunting and focuses on blending real life anxieties and issues with genre elements found in science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
An Interview with Nadia Bulkin

An Interview with Nadia Bulkin

Nadia Bulkin is a unique voice in the horror writing community. A daughter of Javanese and Indonesian parents forced to leave her birth home as a young child, she has suffered losses and had experiences that many other horror writers couldn’t even imagine. By day, she is a political consultant in Washington D.C. But at night, she belongs to the terrifying stories that live in her head. She sits down with the Weird Little Worlds team and shares some of the internal workings that make up the award-worthy author’s mental landscape.


Q: You were born in Indonesia to a half-Javanese, half-American family. Are there any cultural traditions that inform your work? 

A: I’m not sure how much of it’s a cultural tradition, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized how much the plotting decisions I make are shaped by what I’ll call the Javanese tendency toward bargaining and negotiation, even in situations of extreme power imbalance. My personal theory is that this stems from the colonial/post-colonial experience and the drive to survive by any means necessary. I would have gotten that from my upbringing in Jakarta; I don’t know that I’m informed by any cultural traditions of the American Midwest, but maybe I’ll figure that out later!

Q: In addition to be an award-worthy author, you have a job as a political consultant in Washington D.C. How do you make time for writing?

A: With great difficulty, and I don’t even have children, just a day job. I’m not somebody who does well with the “just sit down and hammer it out” school of writing advice, and I don’t write fast enough to have the time for multiple drafts. So I try to jot down sentences and phrases in my phone whenever they come to me and I have a spare moment – like when I’m sitting on the train – and then work those into the document on evenings and weekends. 

Q: You’ve self-identified that you are a sociopolitical horror writer. What do you feel your responsibility is as a writer to impact social change? 

A: I think it’s to tell the truth by portraying a perspective that may not be well-represented, because it’s held by people that are either invisible or disempowered. But my main objective in writing with a sociopolitical lens isn’t necessarily to impact social change (because honestly, that’s a big, complicated goal that is sometimes beyond whole organizations and movements) – it’s just to show how social structures impact choices and outcomes.

Q: In other articles, you have mentioned your move to the United States and its close proximity to your father’s passing as big influences on your early work. What is the role of grief in your writing?

A: For maybe the first decade that I was writing professionally, it was the predominant theme in my work due to unresolved trauma from my father’s death. I don’t think I’m working through the emotions around that loss in the same way anymore, though I still generally write main characters with single parents. And I think that’s what “healing” looks like for a lot of people – no longer defined by this huge wound, but permanently reshaped by the experience.

Q: As you have healed, has your writing changed, and how? 

A: This is still in progress, but what I can say at this point is that I think I’m more interested in deep character development and the progression of various emotional states than I used to be. I think my earlier protagonists had a tougher, stonier stance toward the world. What I’ve found myself having to balance, though, is the fact that my basic view of the world writ large hasn’t softened.

Q: If there was an arcane ritual that would cause you to appear, what would it be? 

A: Probably the Midnight Game (which is internet-arcane).

Q: What is the best investment you’ve ever made with regard to your writing?

A: If we’re talking financial investment, probably a professional Dropbox account so I no longer need to worry about forgetting to save and losing my work. I’m not the most organized writer and I had a lot of scary close calls when I was a teenager. 

Q: What is your all-time favorite piece of horror fiction, both movie and book? 

A: Favorite horror novel is Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (the classic). Favorite horror movie is a much harder question, but I’ll refer back to my Letterboxd Top 16 and say Mulholland Drive, which some may not feel is a horror movie (but they would be wrong). 

Q: You have said that you like propaganda art and collect a bit. What is your favorite piece and why? 

A: I’m not sure if this one qualifies – it’s more of an event poster – but my favorite is the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair poster. I like the art deco aesthetic, and I think it’s interesting to look back at what previous generations considered to be the promise of the future. Like a glimpse into an alternative timeline.

Q: What will you be creating next? 

A: I’m working on a longer work (Novella? Novel? Not sure yet) about a therapist, her patients, and a haunted house. I’m also trying my hand at editing a haunted house anthology this year! 

Nadia Bulkin is the author of the short story collection She Said Destroy (Word Horde, 2017). She has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award five times. She grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia with her Javanese father and American mother, before relocating to Lincoln, Nebraska. She has two political science degrees and lives in Washington, D.C.