I sat down for an interview with Witch Hydra M. Star from the Church of Satan.
Apart from being a member of the admin team for the unofficial CoS Facebook group, Hydra is involved in a number of writing projects and has a pyrography business called The Burning Witch.
Quill: So I know you’re working on The Burning Witch and Infernal Ink Magazine, along with “Candy, Blood, and Sex” which is also out right now. Is there anything else you’re currently working on? Infernal Ink magazine has been going for five years now, hasn’t it?
Hydra: It is in its fifth year of publication. We started back in April of 2012. So, just passed the four year mark.
H: Beside the magazine, I have several other personally writing projects in various stages of completion. One of them, “Great-Grandmother’s Necklace”, will be released before this interview goes live. I’m also contributing to as least one anthology, Fucked Up Fairy Tales, which will be out later this year and in the early stages of putting together another for next year.
H: But the magazine is my main, on going project.
Q: And it’s gotten to the point now that people are submitting material faster than you can fill the pages of a magazine, so you can be more choosy with material to fill its pages?
H: Yeah, it’s been that way for awhile, actually. We’ve been very lucky, in that regard. Originally, we were only going to publish twice a year, in April and October, but after the first year the response was so strong from would be contributors that we expanded that to four times a year, January, April, July, and October. Even still, I’m usually a year out with submission. For example, I’m currently reading for April 2017 and the issue is about half filled.
H: Early on, we took both erotic and non-erotic horror and dark fiction, but erotic horror was what we were really interested in. We now only take erotic horror and erotic dark fiction and have added a subtitle to the magazine to reflect this; Infernal Ink Magazine: Devilishly Erotic Horror. So, yeah, we’re quite choosy now.
Q: How did you find your way to erotic horror, of all possible avenues you could have gone down for writing? What draws you to that?
H: When I first got involved with the online horror writing community–and it didn’t take long for me to disengage to a large degree from the “community”–one of the first exchanges I had was with a gentleman, who will go unnamed, that had a HUGE problem with the use of sex and erotica in the genre. It kind of confused me, because this was like ten years ago, before Kindle and e-books were really a thing and indie authors were all either blogging or going through print on demand services to get their stuff out to readers. Some small presses were putting out non-mainstream stuff, but even most of that was pretty “safe” by most people’s standards. So, I really hadn’t been exposed to very much erotic horror. I don’t even know if it was a proper genre back then–probably not–but I took note of how offended this person was by it, even though I just hadn’t seen it or at least not every much of it. I then noticed a lot of the submission guidelines I was reading stated things like “no graphic sex” or “tastefully written sexual content only”. This really got me wanting to read the stuff that was making these rules something publishers felt they needed to state and had this other guy so upset. Around this time, through Myspace, I met and became friends with a couple of authors who wrote in the genre and used a lot of erotic elements in their work. From there, I started writing a column for an erotic horror magazine called Horroica, which was started by one friend and then taken over by another, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Q: There is erotica out there for people no matter what their kink is. I’ve heard about someone that makes over $50,000 a year writing Bigfoot erotica. I would have never thought that there was an actual niche for that kind of kink until I had read about someone raking in the cash for it. Do you think you wrote your first erotic horror piece around 2012, or were you writing in that area before then?
H: Most of my work in the erotic horror genre has been in editing and publishing. I’m not really sure when I wrote my first erotic horror story. The column I did from late 2010 until the end of 2012 was non-fiction. I wrote a lot of poetry and “traditional” horror and speculative fiction. I’d have to say my novella CANDY, BLOOD, AND SEX is my first really serious contribution to the genre, in the form of my own writing.
Q: When I write a large piece like a novella or a novel I use Scrivener and Scapple as software for writing because I look at it all as a non-linear process. How did you construct your novella, as your first serious entry into a genre that you’re championing with Infernal Ink magazine
H: I use very basic writing software. Usually something like Open Office. I sort out the plot and everything in my head or create an outline for longer pieces and then follow that when writing.
Q: You aren’t using any kind of mind mapping or mind node software to sort of plan out where all of your story arcs are going ahead of time? That’s what I use Scapple for, not that I’ve used it for the short stories about Darius Tupper that I’ve posted on Corna & Quill lately. Those shorts I write about Tupper are just too short to require much planning. Have you had any aspirations for writing a longer piece than your current novella?
H: I don’t like using that type of software. I prefer to just let things flow and then go back and fix, flesh out, or add in whatever is needed.
I have a series of books, THE CHRONICLES OF THE INFERNAL EMPIRE, that I’ve been working on and at times suspect I may never finish that are much longer than the novella…MUCH LONGER.
Q: So when you write, it’s entirely linear – you pound out the beginning, the middle, and the end (in that order), and then you go back and edit?
H: Pretty much. Sometimes I’ll get the inspiration to write a certain scene that comes later and I’ll write it and save it in a different file to add in when I get to that part, but mostly I just sit down and start at the beginning. I do, as I said, outline many of the stories, before starting the real writing. So, I have some idea of where it’s all going.
Q: How far have you come along on The Chronicles of the Infernal Empire? Are you going to publish it if/when you finish it?
H: Not very far, at all. I have a lot of the series outlined and several bits of it written. The first book, which will be a collection of four stories that take place in Heaven prior to the Infernal Gods being…well, Infernal, is further along than anything, but work on it has been put on hold for some time now. Basically, I keep taking on other projects and THE CHRONICLES OF THE INFERNAL EMPIRE is such a massive project that finishing it will probably take YEARS. It will eventually be published though, before I die.
Q: I can certainly understand how life and the things we pursue get in the way of making time to write, to storyboard, to worldbuild, and everything else. Do you see benefit in self-publishing as you did with your novella, or would you look to publishing companies for The Chronicles of the Infernal Empire?
H: At this point, I see self-publishing and publishing through small press publishers as about equal. Many small presses now use print on demand services like Lulu or Createspace for their print books and platforms like Smashwords or Kindle Direct Publishing for digital. This means a couple of things. One, your book through these presses will almost certainly not be getting into brick and mortar book stores, the few of them that are left. Two, unless they have a name and reputation that sell books or they have same serious marketing skills, there isn’t much these small presses can do for an author that they can’t do for themselves.
H: The only real plus side to going with a small press, at this point, is that they’ll handle the editing, formatting, and so forth. This though can be handled by the author. Freelance editors are easy to find and most of them offer services that are reasonably priced and often these editors are the same people who work for small presses. If money is tight, in some cases, if you’re well-connected enough and/or good at editing or formatting yourself, you can trade services….but I advise against trying to self-edit. You need to have at least one other set of eyes on anything you’re planning to publish.
H: With all that said, at this point I don’t plan to look for a publishing company for THE CHRONICLES OF THE INFERNAL EMPIRE, though I may have started my own by then. It is an idea I’m toying with.
Q: I fully agree about having other sets of eyes on what you’re writing, though I usually get them by tempting people I know with a juicy new bit of writing that they’ll be the first to see. Do you find the process simple enough to self-publish through, say, Amazon? Have you been making any decent money off of your novella?
H: Oh yeah, I use the “read it before anyone else” trick to get proof/beta readers. Even after things have been edited it’s still a good idea to have one or two people give it a final read. Editors miss stuff, even the ones that work for the big companies. So, I employ that little bit of lesser magic towards that goal.
H: Yes, the process of publishing through Amazon and Lulu, who I use for print, is very easy. You need to understand basic document file and image formatting, but the actual publishing process is very easy. The money sucks. Anyone that’s in publishing for the money has a long hard road ahead of them. I make back what I put out and enough on top of that to keep me going, but it’s not a windfall. Not by a long shot.
Q: Not yet, anyway. Speaking of sales and promotions, how has Infernal Ink Magazine grown lately?
H: The magazine is doing great, by indie standards. July was probably our best month to date, sales wise.
H: As I mentioned before, submission numbers are quite high, as well. I’m actually very behind in reading submissions, at the moment, but hope to catch up soon.
Q: So. Pyrography. The Burning Witch. How did you get started on that?
H: I was first introduced to wood-burning as an art form through a middle school art class. It was a short lived experience with it, because a boy in the class was burnt badly by the burning tool and it was taken away from us, but years later when I was in my early twenties and pregnant with my daughter, no less, I was looking to create a Sigil of Baphomet altar piece. I’d tried painting a couple of them, but I suck at painting. Then one day I came across a wood-burning tool while shopping in one of those big box craft supply stores and remembered liking it. I purchased the tool and some wood and was off and running.
H: That original Sigil of Baphomet piece is something I still own. It can actually be seen in the display picture for my cat’s Facebook page. Just look for Cyrus the Orange on Facebook, if you want to see it.
Q: I know exactly which picture you mean. I love that picture of Cyrus the Orange! How long do you think it took you to do that one Sigil of Baphomet?
H: I want to say that took me a week or week and a half, but I wasn’t doing much else at that time. The burning is also pretty light. Today, with other work and heavier/crisper burning, it takes about twice that time frame for me to get one, that same size, completed and out the door.
Q: I would have thought that the amount of time would have gone down as you honed your skills, but it makes sense that with deeper, heavier, and crisper burns that it would take more time. Are you still using that same tool you picked up at the crafts store, or have you expanded the tools you have available to you?
H: Oh, the tools burn out and die pretty quickly. I go through at least one a year. So, no. That original one is long since died. In some ways, the time frame has shortened, but I now usually have five or so projects going at one time. So, my time is divided now. I’m no longer a pregnant woman with little else to do.
Q: Is it just one tool that’s used, or a variety of them?
H: It’s just the one.
Q: And are you drawing everything free-hand, or do you use some kind of a stencil system?
H: A bit of both, depending on the piece. I have stencils for all the items listed in the shop. This is so they are uniform, but for custom pieces I draw out a lot of the design by hand or tweak existing stencils. It really depends on what the customer wants. A lot of customers will come to me with art or an example of a sigil or something similar that they want and I’ll use that to make a stencil. So, it really just depends.
Q: You trace what you’re going to burn in pencil using the stencil as a guide, then fire up the burninator? I still don’t think I could do it. Hell, even my handwriting is terrible.
H: Again, it depends on the piece and the stencil I’m using. Some of them are more or less just print outs I burn directly through, because that’s faster. Either way, it requires a very steady hand.
Q: Are there any other big things coming down the line that you want to talk about? New projects or anything like that?
H: Nothing big in the works with the pyrography. At the moment I’m still waiting to hear if a piece I did has made it into the Devil’s Reign art show. If the piece makes it in that will be my first art show, but other than that it’s just business as usual with the shop, at the moment.
H: Alder Strauss and I are currently taking submissions for a cannibalism themed anthology we’ll be publishing in 2017, BON APPETIT: STORIES & RECIPES FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION. We’ve very excited about that and the guidelines for it can be found on my website.
H: Other than that, I’ll be continuing with Infernal Ink Magazine for the rest of the foreseeable future. As mentioned, I’ll be making an appearance in the FUCKED UP FAIRY TALES anthologies in September and possibly releasing some other shorter pieces here and there.
H: I’m also in discussions with a couple of authors to get some books out, possibly as part of the Infernal Ink publishing brand, but none of that is set in stone just yet.
Q: That’s awesome, I hope your work gets picked up for The Devil’s Reign. What sorts of considerations does one have to make when working toward creating a publishing brand like you may be doing with Infernal Ink?
H: That’s what I’m currently sorting out.
Q: All right. Well, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule with all of your projects to do this interview! I hope to see you again at our next conclave.
H: It was an absolute pleasure. I have no doubt we’ll meet up again, one day.
Q: I’m looking forward to it.