Claustrophobia Revisited : By Loren Rhoads

Claustrophobia Revisited by Loren Rhoads

The first time I went away to sleepaway camp, I was a junior in high school. Michigan Tech, a university five hundred miles north of my home, was hosting a weeklong writing program. I dragged my typewriter into my assigned dorm room and waved goodbye to my parents, excited to be a real writer for a week.

Almost immediately I met another high school girl there for the program. I really liked her at first. She seemed sunny and competitive and dramatic. I thought we’d provide a good challenge for each other. I looked forward to reading her stories.

I’m not sure what set her off. She and some of the guys from the program were hanging around in my room when I went into the large walk-in closet to demonstrate how big it was. Once I was inside, Nicole slammed the door behind me.

I heard giggling. Nicole enlisted the guys to help her shove the dresser in front of the door so I couldn’t get out. They talked loudly about going to dinner while I was trapped. They slammed the dorm room’s door behind them on their way out.

I didn’t have a flashlight. I didn’t know where the light switch was. With the dresser blocking the door, the closet was very dark inside. This was long before cell phones were a gleam in some engineer’s eye. My parents wouldn’t be back for a week. I wasn’t due in class until morning. No one would even know I was missing until then.

I sank down onto the floor of the closet, tears burning at the edges of my eyes. What if there was a fire? What if I needed to pee? If I screamed, would anyone hear me? Were there people on the floors above or below me? Would my tormentors only laugh at me more if I begged to be let out?

I decided to tell myself I was too angry to cry. I tried to figure out what had happened, what I’d done to be tormented like this. I’d only just met Nicole. I’d even admired her. I’d thought she seemed like fun, that we might be friends. Why would anyone be so mean to a total stranger?

I never realized I was claustrophobic until I found myself barricaded in that closet. As I sat there in the blackness, I felt the walls shooting away from me into space. I felt them contract toward me with every panicked breath. I couldn’t hear anything but my blood pounding in my ears. My body flushed with heat, then iced with fear. I understood why people went crazy when locked up alone in the dark. I wondered how long that would take.

This essay was initially published on Horror Addicts the year my space opera trilogy came out. ( It’s now part of This Morbid Life, a collection of my confessional essays, which came out August 22 from Automatism Press.

Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. She was the editor of Morbid Curiosity magazine and the book Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Tales of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual. Her most recent book is This Morbid Life, a memoir comprised of 45 death-positive essays.

What others have called an obsession with death is really a desperate romance with life. Guided by curiosity, compassion, and a truly strange sense of humor, this particular morbid life is detailed through a death-positive collection of 45 confessional essays. Along the way, author Loren Rhoads takes prom pictures in a cemetery, spends a couple of days in a cadaver lab, eats bugs, survives the AIDS epidemic, chases ghosts, and publishes a little magazine called Morbid Curiosity.

Originally written for zines from Cyber-Psychos AOD to Zine World and online magazines from Gothic.Net to Scoutie Girl, these emotionally charged essays showcase the morbid curiosity and dark humor that transformed Rhoads into a leading voice of the curious and creepy.

“Witty, touching, beautifully written, and haunting — in every sense of the word — This Morbid Life is an absolute must-read for anyone looking for an unusually bright and revealing journey into the darkest of corners. Highly recommended!” — M.Christian, author of Welcome To Weirdsville

The paperback is up for sale at Amazon now:

The ebook will be live on Sunday. It’s available for pre-order now:

Get signed copies from:

HOW CON: How to write when you don’t feel up to it

How to write when you don’t feel up to it
by Loren Rhoads

Sometimes, especially these days, it’s hard to do the creative work you want to do. I’ve used a bunch of tricks to get around the blocks. I offer them here, in hopes they’ll inspire you.

  1. Make a list. Whether it’s topics you want to explore or scenes that need to be written, it’s easier to begin writing when you have a prompt.
  2. Set an alarm. Promise yourself that you will settle down to write when the alarm goes off. Giving yourself the anticipation of writing time can be inspirational.
  3. Set a timer. Anyone can write for 15 minutes. There’s something about the tiniest amount of time pressure that tricks your brain into thinking it’s on a deadline. Start a timer on your computer, phone, or in the kitchen. You might find yourself pounding out the words to beat the bell. If the words are really flowing, you can always add a second 15-minute sprint.
  4. Make a date with a friend. Whether you sit down together in a cafe (someday!) or meet online for a video chat, it really helps to know that someone else is working alongside you. The key is to find someone who will write, rather than chat.
  5. Put your headphones on. Many writers make a playlist that they listen to only when they work on a particular story or book. Listening to the same music every time you write can train your brain to provide inspiration on command.
  6. Write somewhere else. If you normally write at a desk, try moving to the sofa or the kitchen table or sitting in bed. The simple act of shifting to new surroundings can shake loose the words.
  7. Try a different writing tool. Do you usually write on a laptop? Try writing by hand in a notebook or attach a keyboard to your phone. Some writers swear by word processing keyboards like AlphaSmart or FreeWrite, which only allow you to see a small amount of the text you’re working on. That way you’re forced to move forward, rather than editing what you’ve already done.
  8. Experiment with dictation. The simple act of telling yourself your story can inspire you. Whether you use a dedicated dictation program or simply take a voice memo on your phone, the trick is to speak the punctuation at the end of each sentence. Also, edit while the words are fresh in your mind, or you may have trouble deciphering Siri’s interpretation.
  9. Write first thing in the morning. It’s tempting to start the day by checking email or scrolling social media, but what would you come up with if you listened to your own thoughts first thing in the morning?
  10. Write last thing at night. Take a notebook to bed and draft one more scene before you turn out the light. Do the words feel different as you’re settling in for the night?  Maybe your subconscious will solve a writing problem for you in your dreams.
  11. Step away from writing. Sometimes the best ideas come when you can’t write them down. Go for a walk, wash the dishes, or take a shower. Let your mind play without the pressure of a blank page staring at you. As soon as you finish your break, sit down to record the thoughts that occurred in the interim.
  12. Remind yourself why you write. Do you have a story you’re burning to tell? Do you have a lesson you want to teach? Are you curious how your story will turn out? Clarifying why you want to do this can show you the path how to do it.
  13. Ask “And then what happens?” Sometimes the next scene isn’t clear. You can get wound up trying to figure out what needs to happen. Instead of insisting on what the story needs, narrow your focus until you only need to come up with the next step. Then write that next step…and the next one after that.
  14. Perfect is the enemy of done. Don’t waste time choosing the right word. Put down the almost-right word, enclose it in parentheses, and keep going. You can always fix it later. This works for names, descriptions, and anything you might need to research. Aim for momentum over poetry in your first draft.
  15. Chart your progress. Whether you put a check on the calendar, color in a box on a habit-tracking chart, or simply make note of your word count, record the days you write. If you only write 500 words a day for 100 days, you’ll have 50,000 words for your book in three months. It’s addictive to see your progress.


What other tricks have you found for getting the work done? Make your own list, so you’ll have some tools to use next time you feel at a loss for words.

Loren Rhoads is the co-author of the Spooky Writer’s Planner with Emerian Rich.

Kidnapped! Automatism Press : “The Acid That Dissolves Images” by Loren Rhoads


A Taste of “The Acid That Dissolves Images”

by Loren Rhoads

This story was initially published in Lend the Eye a Terrible Aspect in 1994. It was republished in the Ashes & Rust chapbook.

You throw the magazine into the jumble of makeup heaped beneath the mirror. “Pretentious gory poseur,” the critic called you, “bastard love-child of Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, and the whole 20th-century shock-rock scene.” You draw a (hopefully) calming breath. The critic obviously hadn’t stayed for the whole show.

Obviously. Medusa is an angry itch inside you, mixed in the bile that creeps up the back of your throat. You suck miserably on a beer, but the bitter taste won’t go away. How long can this sane front hold?

Your hands shake as you load the gun. The first bullet shatters the mirror, your reflection; the second silences the digiplayer. As Medusa rises, you feel the hardness returning. It feels good.

Medusa wonders: if she shot the body you share in the shoulder, could you still go on stage — despite the pain, despite your arm hanging incarnadine against the shiny black latex bodysuit? You wish there were some way to shoot her. Instead, you hold the magazine at arm’s length and blow it to confetti. It snows down around you, smelling of cordite.

Over the dressing room intercom, Carl asks, “Are you ready, Rachel?”

In response, Medusa laughs. Her low, cruel cackle has become your trademark.

To invite him in, you promise, “I won’t shoot you.” Still, the creature inside you might, just to see how Carl would meet death. He is one of the few young men you know, a conscientious objector. A couple of months ago, he claimed he would rather report to prison — with all that entailed — than join the Army. But the night his draft notice came, Medusa plucked out his eyes on stage. Carl fainted before she finished the first one.


He can’t afford cybernetic replacements, of course, and the Army won’t lay out that kind of cash for a grunt they don’t expect to see again once they dump him in the desert.

You’ve been wondering why Carl stayed in the band. Maybe, in a twisted way, he is grateful to Medusa. He’s as friendly to you as anyone dares to be these days.

Carl opens the dressing room door. He seems to regard you through the gauze that covers his empty sockets. “Did you read the review in Modern Image?” he asks.

You decide to be honest. “Why did our first national publicity have to be a slam?”

Any mention is better than no mention at all.” Carl crosses his arms on his chest and leans against the doorframe. “Sounded to me like she made up her mind about us before the show started, then left after the first song. They call the magazine Image, not Substance.” He smiled. “It hasn’t affected the size of tonight’s crowd. Maybe it helped.”

You wish he hadn’t told you that. Medusa has gotten really wild on the nights she’s had a big audience. Last time it was Carl. How can she top that? Feigning calm, you jab the pointed nail of your little finger at your eyelashes, forcing the mascara to spike still more. Finally you say screwit and pull the bone-white shock of bangs into your face. These normal gestures do not faze Medusa. She shows you white hair clotted with crimson. Behind it, your shattered reflection wears Medusa’s smile.

You follow Carl from the dressing room. The cinderblocks of the hall are covered with the graffiti of a hundred bands. Most of the names are unfamiliar. When you reach the wings, the effluvia of spilled beer and hair mousse washes over you. You envision the crowd: witch bitches in their black gowns and silver talismans, knots of mohawked punks, a tourist or two in bondage gear. Desperate women, wanting a spectacle to make them forget how lonely they are, how long ago their men disappeared into the desert. Carl gets laid every night. So does the computer jockey, Ann. It seems forever since you’ve had anybody but Medusa for company.

The band stands in a clump, passing a joint of Lydia’s one-hit weed. Though excluded, you bask in their camaraderie. Again you are glad to have answered their ad for a singer. The performances allow you respite from Medusa, when you don’t need to clutch her leash so tightly. Now that she’s grown abusive of this freedom, perhaps you should quit.

Poseur,” Medusa murmurs. “You would quit after one scathing review. I don’t need you holding me back any longer.”

You realize Medusa still holds the gun. You thrust it through the back of your belt and hope she will forget about it. How likely is that? Still, she can’t kill you. She needs you to move around in. And she needs the band, to do whatever it is she’s come to do. You promise yourself that they’ll be safe.

The houselights dim. The audience rustles, a thousand-eyed beast whose attention is suddenly focused. Your fingertips are icy as you slip the microphone over your head, switch on the box of effects at your hip. “I’ll show you gore,” Medusa teases. You wish you knew what she has planned, but you never do.

The machines kick on, spewing pale smoke that smells like myrrh. In the gloom, Ann’s computer lights glow a malevolent red. Lydia leads Carl to his drums, waits solicitously for him to find the controls. Then she lifts her bass from its cradle and turns up the volume.

A moan begins, like a graveyard wind. Lydia weaves in a rapid bass melody.

When the fog reaches your knees, you pace slowly to downstage middle. Thus ends the rehearsed part of the show.

Is ecstasy possible in destruction?” Medusa whispers through the effects box. The reverse reverb repeats each word, clarifying it before biting it off. “Can one grow young in cruelty?”

Fear becomes a chill rock in your stomach.

Do you desire to see the Truth?” Medusa asks.

A stark white spotlight pierces the smoke to strike harsh reflections off the shiny latex bodysuit. With one hand, Medusa forces your head back, caresses your throat, cups one breast, hugs your bony ribs. Yes, she is killing you. You shiver, though not altogether in fear.

Do you desire essential satisfaction?” Medusa purrs. “I do.”

With a savage tug, she rips an earring from your left ear, throws it to the stage, and mashes the silver nude beneath her boot. Blood drips on your neck, warm, sensual. Medusa touches her fingers to it, brushes it across your lips. Delicious.

Let us enjoy ourselves to the full. ’Tis Nature’s law.”


Medusa steals lyrics from Rimbaud, Crowley, Huysmans, everyone you’ve read. She has an incredible memory for cruelty.

Women crowd around the stage. Someone thrusts a black-gloved fist into the spotlight. You wonder what they derive from Medusa, why her fury attracts and binds them, mothlike, as it does you. Medusa only smiles.

A flashbulb dazzles your eyes.

Medusa stalks toward the flash, hissing lines from The Torture Garden into the microphone. The crowd washes after her, waves against the breakwater of the stage.

She halts, swaying on stiletto boot heels. Anger pounds like a bass drum inside your skull. You have to fight her to see.

The fortyish woman holds a camera at arm’s length over her head and snaps another picture. Trendy gold fans shield her ears. Her painstakingly ratted hair glows plum in the lights. You recognize her as the critic from Modern Image. Why could she be here, Medusa demands, unless to see if she has destroyed you?

Now that she has your attention, the critic shouts something. Sandwiched chest-high against the stage by the crowd, she is white-faced. You can’t hear her over the Berlioz melody Ann’s computer is generating. As you bend close to the footlights, Medusa switches on the flanger.

I can’t breathe,” the critic gasps. Your microphone Doppler-shifts the words, giving them a ghostly echo.

Like a bird of prey, Medusa’s laugh spirals up over the effects. She strides across the stage to Carl, drapes her arms over his shoulders, pinches his nipples through his black T-shirt. He freezes, rigid against your chest. “Count yourself lucky, bitch,” Medusa snarls. “Some people can’t see.”

To be continued!

Lend the Eye a Terrible Aspect:

Ashes & Rust for the kindle:

Both are available on my bookshop:

Kidnapped! Automatism Press : How Horror Writers Show Their Morbid Curiosity by Loren Rhoads


How Horror Writers Show Their Morbid Curiosity

by Loren Rhoads

Because I hosted several annual Open Mics for Morbid Curiosity magazine at the World Horror Conventions, I had the opportunity to meet a whole bunch of horror writers.  I was surprised how easy it was to get them up on a stage, baring their real lives in front of an audience.

In fact, Brian Keene opened Morbid Curiosity #7 with a story that he’d rocked at the Open Mic in Chicago.  “Kick ’em Where it Counts” is one of my favorite stories that I was ever lucky enough to publish.  It’s about an industrial accident that nearly took Keene’s manhood and his life.  You can still wince along in sympathy (even I did and my manhood lives in a drawer) by picking up one of the few remaining copies of that issue of the magazine.


Rain Graves told the story of her awakening to the powers of Ancient Egypt at work in her life, which added a mystical touch to one of the Open Mics.  Michael Arnzen told about growing up in Amityville, near the house where Ronald DeFeo killed his family. Mason Winfield unwittingly lived with the .22-Caliber Killer. Lorelei Shannon talked about discovering the Hellraiser Gopher. I even got Brian Hodge to tell the story of how he talked with angels.

Those live events were really great because I never knew what I was going to get.

Another writer who blew me away was Simon Wood, who contributed “The Road of Life” to #7.  He wrote about running into a bicyclist with his car — and he’s read it several times for Morbid Curiosity events.  The story is just chilling, especially if you don’t know what’s coming next.  (Sorry to have just spoiled it for you.)

Most of the issues of the magazine are sold out now, but you can still check out the remaining copies here:

Kidnapped! Behind “The Shattered Rose” by Loren Rhodes


Behind “The Shattered Rose”

by Loren Rhoads

When I first moved to San Francisco, I lived in between the Castro neighborhood and Haight-Ashbury. The house, an old Victorian that survived the 1906 earthquake, became a focal point for a large group of friends.

Quite often we’d go wandering on weekend nights. Sometimes we’d hike over to Corona Heights, a former quarry turned into a park that had a spectacular view of the city. Other times we’d go to Buena Vista Park, where the rain gutters are lined with broken tombstones. When we were up for a longer hike, we’d walk to Golden Gate Park.

In the late 1980s, the Haight was no safer than it is now. Men would stroll the street, chanting, “Doses, doses” or “Kind bud” or “What do you need?” When the Dead were in town, kids slept in doorways, on the neighbors’ porches or under any friendly bush in the park. People were constantly going off their meds, arguing with trees or simply ranting in the middle of the street.

So, roaming around in a pack of 8 or 10 fine young punks was very liberating for a sheltered farm girl trying to settle into the big city. Mostly, we went to Golden Gate Park to drink beer and play on the swings in the Children’s Playground, but sometimes we’d climb above the manmade waterfall on Strawberry Hill to look at the city lights and be part of the quiet darkness.

“The Shattered Rose” was inspired by those nocturnal ramblings. I adored the way the fog moved in the streetlights as if it was alive. I loved the salty flavor of the fog on my lips and the way it tingled on my face. I marveled at the way sounds could be so muted, edges so softened, as the ocean breathed over the land.

I really did see a rose thrown down on the sidewalk one night. It had been dashed to the ground so hard that its petals flew off like broken crockery. I knew the image would appear in a story someday.

And we really did startle a heron out of Hiawatha’s pond over by the DeYoung Museum. I thought the elegant bird was a statue, until it launched itself into the air, circled over our heads once, and flew away.

In addition to wandering San Francisco at night, the story was inspired by Dracula. When I read the novel the first time, I was deeply impressed by the baptism of blood, when Dracula opens a vein in his chest and forces Mina to drink his blood. For me, vampire stories – however sexy – are all about the blood.

I’d been reading the Sisters of Darkness and Love in Vein anthologies and I decided that the thing they lacked was that they weren’t bloody enough. I wanted my vampire erotica to be sticky and crimson.

“The Shattered Rose” appeared originally in the Paramental Appreciation Society chapbook, alongside a hardboiled magical detective story by Seth Lindberg, a gritty Tenderloin fairy tale by Lilah Wild, and a series of amazing fantasmagoric vignettes by Claudius Reich. San Francisco never looked so magical.

Link to the Paramental Appreciation Society chapbook: Paramental Appreciation Society

Kidnapped! The Death’s Garden Revisited Submissions Call


The Death’s Garden Revisited call for submissions

by Loren Rhoads

Twenty years ago, I was given a box of miscellaneous cemetery photos. They had been taken by my best friend’s husband over the course of his travels around the Americas. Blair was 28 years old and dying of AIDS. He wanted to know his photos had a good home.

I decided to put together a book that would feature those photos. Initially, I was going to write all the text, but as I talked to people about the project, everyone seemed to have a cemetery story to tell.

The book title expanded from Death’s Garden to Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries. I was thrilled to discover that people I knew — even complete strangers — all had a graveyard they’d connected with. Whether it be because a family member was buried there, visited it on vacation, grown up in a house near it, or for a whole bouquet of other reasons.

The contributors varied from people I met through zine publishing, a ceramics professor at Ohio State University, authors for the LA Weekly, professional artists, photographers, underground musicians, depressed high school girls, and punk rock diva Lydia Lunch. As the book came together, Death’s Garden blew away my expectations.

The initial print ran of 1,000 copies and sold out 18 months. I only asked for one-time rights to use everyone’s contributions, so I couldn’t republish it. Once the books were gone, that was it.

As the years passed, I’ve lost track of many of the contributors. Some are dead and have a different relationship with cemeteries now. Others have sunk into the anonymity of a pseudonym on the internet.

For a while now, I’ve wanted to assemble a second volume of Death’s Garden.  I think there are a lot more stories to be told about relationships people have formed with graveyards. For instance, what’s it like to be a tour guide? How are cemetery weddings different than others? What’s the strangest cemetery you’ve ever visited, or the most beautiful, or the spookiest?

This is open to anyone who has visited a cemetery where something special happened, either good or bad.  Tell me about your relationship with a cemetery.  I’d like to publish it on

What I’m looking for:

  • personal essays that focus on a single cemetery
  • preferably with pictures
  • under 1500 words (totally negotiable, but the limit is something to shoot for)
  • descriptive writing
  • characterization, dialogue, tension: all the tools you’d use to tell a story
  • but this MUST be true — and it must have happened to you!

Reprints are fine.  If you’ve written something lovely on your blog and wouldn’t mind it reaching the couple thousand people who subscribe to Cemetery Travel, let me know.

If I accept your essay for publication on Cemetery Travel, be warned: I may do some light editing, with your permission.

Also, I’ll need:

  • a bio of 50-100 words
  • a photo of you
  • a link to your blog or book
  • links to your social media sites, so people can follow you.

Finally, if — as I hope — this project progresses to becoming a legitimate book, I will contact you with a contract and offer of payment.  Stay tuned!

Send your essay to me at