Thursday, October 12, 2017

GREEN KANGAROOS LOST IN MADHOUSE. SEND HELP.

Hi Everyone--

This week, I've invited my gal pal Jessica McHugh into the Madhouse to chat about her book, The Green Kangaroos. Now I've had this book on my shelf for years now, and I'm so excited that I've finally blocked out some time to get to work on it, and I gotta say, it was one hell of a ride. It reminded me of a science fiction version of one of Ellen Hopkin's books, and as someone who is a fan of medical horror and books about addiction and psychological chaos, I enjoyed this one immensely.

Now for those of you who don't know Jess, she is an author of speculative fiction spanning the genre from horror and alternate history to young adult. A member of the Horror Writers Association and a 2013 Pulp Ark nominee, she has devoted herself to novels, short stories, poetry, and playwriting. Jessica has had fourteen books published in five years, including the bestselling Rabbits in the Garden, The Sky: The World and the gritty coming-of-age thriller, PINS. More info on her speculations and publications can be found at JessicaMcHughBooks.com.

Enjoy the madness, folks.
With Atyls and love,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Tell us about your book. What gave you the idea to create this world, and in your opinion, what does it represent at its most literal and figurative heights?

Though I didn't write this novel until late 2012, the idea to write about a drug-addled middle child had been marinating in my brain since 2008. The character of Perry Samson is without a doubt inspired by my brother, also a middle child, who's had a lengthy battle with heroin addiction. But despite those experiences, I didn't feel prepared to write this book in 2008. I'd just had my first novel published that year, and I knew this story would be emotionally taxing, so I'm glad I recognized back then how much I still needed to grow as a writer.

In the beginning, the story was more linear and it lacked the sci-fi and bizarro elements. It focused more on the drug, which was called Elysium rather than Atlys. What pushed the original plot into what it is today had a lot to do with the publisher I was aiming for (though I eventually chickened out) and my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. When it came to the outline, I didn't second guess my decisions. I didn't censor my voice. I became Perry Samson in all of his hedonistic misery and allowed myself to enjoy every second. For lack of better explanation, the world grew from a sort of destructive liberation.

In that vein, I feel like this story represents how easy it is to annihilate someone with love. Especially if what we call “love” is really an addictive routine we should've shrugged off ages ago. We do it to ourselves like Perry, we do it those we care about like Nadine, and we do it as a favor to the world like Dr. Carter. Sometimes love isn't the answer. Sometimes pain is easier and, therefore, better. But it's never as fulfilling as love can be.

In summation, this is an epic love story for Perry and a shitty one for pretty much everyone else.

Can you talk a little about Perry’s character and the inspiration you used for him? I know that this book is personal to you on a lot of levels, so I’m curious how you 1) maintained distance from you own feelings to focus on character development specific to this story and 2) allowed yourself to get close to it in a way that may have been emotionally difficult for you.

There are certainly elements of my brother's personality in Perry Samson, and Baltimore is an important setting as that's where my brother bought drugs and even lived in abandoned buildings for a bit. But there's also a lot of twenty-three-year-old Jessica in Perry. In my early twenties I went through a horrible bout of depression, though I didn't know it was depression at the time. I'd just ended a five-year relationship, I worked a shitty job, my roommate was starting to despise me, and writing was the only thing that made me happy. Well, and drinking. I self-medicated with alcohol and reached a point when I didn't even recognize myself. I didn't know my brother was back on heroin at that time, probably because I was too drunk to notice he'd nodded out on the couch beside me, so I carried a lot of guilt about giving him a safe place to get high, albeit unknowingly. I made a lot of mistakes. I also got a lot of inspiration.

That's also why it took me years to get around to this book. I needed that distance. If I was going to channel the worst parts of me, I had to know I wasn't going to disappear into them again. I thought it would be difficult, even painful, to channel those versions of my brother and me, but it turned out to be the most enjoyable experience I've had writing any story so far. Some parts were harder than others, but most of the drafting felt like a release. The layering of real world and the simulation provided an interesting therapy, allowing me to interpret my feelings from both sides of addiction.

What was your favorite part of the story to create and explore, and then to play devil’s advocate, what was the hardest for you? Did you find any of it cathartic to write about, and if so, in what way?

It might sound horrible, but playing Perry was a lot of fun for me during revisions. The first draft was intense and cathartic and enjoyable on some levels, but I wouldn't call it “fun.” Revising him was fun, though. I didn't censor him in any way, but a new spark came with the revisions. The percentage of what I loved compared to what I thought was squatbutter was much higher in this book. Another aspect might've been the fact that the book was accepted within a week of submission and only had a few notes after the final revision. I owe a lot of that to my best friend, Jenny, who lives near Patterson Park. Let's just say Patterson Park had less realistic layout before I drank a bottle of champagne and stumbled around with my best friend. I got as close as I could to Perry's state of mind when he'd be ambling the park. As awful as I think Perry can be, or maybe always has been and will be, there has to be hope in him because there's hope in me.

I think the hardest part was describing Emily in the virtual world. It gave me so much trouble, I think it was the last thing I revised—and probably rewrote—before submitting. I have no recollection of that scene, except that it exists, so I should probably go back and revisit it at some point. Gee I hope it's not shit.

How did you develop the Sunny Daye Institute? I felt like I was in a Black Mirror Episode and I really dug the premise for it. Also, why Antarctica?

I had to ask my husband because I couldn't remember! (terrible, I know) I'd come up with the notion of an addict needing to pass three tests, but he said the Sunny Daye Institute came from a boozy conversation one night. That sounds incredibly plausible, so I'm thinking it sprung organically out of drunkenly brainstorming about what kind of person or people would implement such a radical rehab program. Antarctica seemed like an idea location for the Sunny Daye HQ because it was so secluded, such an inhospitable environment, a place where failure would reap the same punishment as an attempted escape. It's as clean and final as Carter's kind of sobriety.

I really liked Emily’s character in the story and she reminded me a lot of the movie Smart House (1999), you know, if this were a teen comedy and not a science fiction horror story about drugs and addiction. Having said that, I liked that she is a computer who is programmed to have feelings and think and interact with the world(s) around her. I see a lot of Asimov and Philip K. Dick influence in this story, and I’m curious if you found inspiration in them, and even Westworld for this story?

At the very least, Asimov and Dick had a subconscious influence on this story, but Emily actually appeared in my unfinished novella “Island Lions” first, though it appears after TGK chronologically. In IL, she's only known as “The Woman on the Wall,” a phrase which appears in TGK too. I didn't get very far into the story, but she's described as the product of a glitchy program, and I used that inspirado to create her backstory for The Green Kangaroos. I stopped writing IL because The Hunger Games got really big, and there are similar elements, but if I finish it one day, readers might get to see Perry Samson again too.

Oh, and I totally screamed “Hey, those are my LCs!” while watching HBO's Westworld but was woefully unaware of the film despite my love for Yul Brynner.

The ending to this story was both uplifting and upsetting for me, because in a way, I felt like the story was building up to Perry’s sobriety, which in some ways he gets (by force) while in other ways, he blatantly turns his back on his family and chooses drugs.  Can you explain the decision for this as well as the message that you’re sending with the ending? I like that it’s not clean cut—because, hey, life isn’t clean cut--but I’m also unsure of the lack of hope that it leaves me with for those struggling with addiction.

I knew the ending would be potentially controversial, the epilogue especially. But when it comes down to it, sometimes there is no hope left—or maybe hope isn't always the sunshiney goal we think it is. Sometimes hope is dark and hungry. Sometimes it consumes us instead of setting us free. Though Perry isn't sober, he has found happiness and hope in the end. He's found peace in his addiction. It's not the right peace, and it's not romantic, but it's his. Nadine, on the other hand, is so addicted to protecting and keeping her new LC brother clean that she's actually turning him into an addict.

I'm certainly not suggesting people shouldn't try to help the addicts in their lives. A good deal of them want and need their loved ones reaching out to find their way back. Some do not. Perry's story is one shade of the latter.

How would you describe your writing style to those who are new to your work?

Textured for your (dis)pleasure.

What is next in store for your readers?

The fifth and final middle-grade book in my Darla Decker Diaries series is now available from Evolved Publishing. It's been quite a journey, but I'm extremely proud of this installment. As someone who naturally drifts toward horror and otherworldly plots, it was tough staying grounded sometimes, but as this novel actually answers a big mystery that's lasted throughout the series, I felt a little more in my wheelhouse with this one.

My first novel with Raw Dog Screaming Press also comes out this year, and it's gone through quite a transformation since I started it back in my early 20s. “Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven” is the story of Cartesia, the corrupt council that governs it, and a fierce woman named Shal who's done putting up with the council's tyranny. But in a world where God is dead is a mysterious entity called the Capesman has assumed control of men's souls, the path to victory is more crooked than Shal ever imagined.

I do have a few short stories coming out, but most notably, I will have fifty-five flash stories in the 3rd volume of Carrion Blue's 555 anthology. Fourteen of those fifty-five are dedicated to my best friendobear, Tyler, who passed away less than a month before I began writing them, so you can expect some...ahem...emotions. I'm also more than halfway through my second A Story A Week challenge, and I'm posted the unedited flash stories, which will be part of a novel called WEBWORM, to my Patreon page.

Who are some of your influences in the genre? Do you have any writing rituals that you tend to follow either before/during/or after you write?

My biggest influences are Roald Dahl, Anne Rice, and Bret Easton Ellis, so maybe that's why my work leans toward dark humor, visceral descriptions, and a lot of “fucks.” And yes, I do have a ritual for finishing big projects. I put on what's called my Story Hat (which is just a tiny fancy clip-on hat my mom gave me) and take a celebratory picture. It's dumb, but it makes me feel like a fancy god.

What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

“My Soul Looks Back,” a memoir by Dr. Jessica B. Harris, who also happens to be my namesake. It details her time in New York in the 70s as a friend to the likes of James Baldwin and Maya Angelou, and what I've read so far is excellent! Also Betty Rocksteady's “Like Jagged Teeth” and Amber Fallon's “The Warblers.”

If you could give one piece of advice to new writers, what would it be?

You should enjoy writing. Don't get me wrong, writing is hard as fuck, and it's going to torture the hell out of you at times, but it should also be fun. Finding inspiration, creating complex worlds and characters, even receiving criticism that helps you grow as an artist: these can be the most soul-crushing aspects of writing, but they can be amazingly fun too, and they can fill you with the most wonderful sense of pride if you persevere. 

Want to check out her latest?

Darla Decker Breaks the Case
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B075QKHDPW/

It's the summer before high school, and secrets are turning Darla Decker's life upside down. With her parents' increasing distance and her brother's eagerness to escape, life is tense at home. Even Darla, Reggie, and Nate's first training weekend as Camp Wakonda counselors is tougher than they imagined. But when she and her best friends uncover a shocking connection between Reggie's grandmother and Shiloh Farms' resident demon-bus-driving cat lady, the trio dives into a mystery that's been decades in the making.

Will Darla, Nate, and Reggie's friendship survive the turbulent days leading to ninth grade, or will it fade like so many other relationships into the past?

The frank and funny journey of love, loss, and the nitty-gritty of growing up continues in the final installment of Darla Decker's middle school diaries.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

TIFFANY SCANDAL TRAPPED IN MADHOUSE

Hi Everyone--

Today in the MADHOUSE, I'm chatting with Tiffany Scandal about her punk rock, feminist horror book, Shit Luck. I told myself this year that I was going to make a point to get to some of the books I've been staring at on my to-read list forever now, such as: Shit Luck by Tiffany Scandal, The Green Kangaroos by Jessica McHugh, Glue by Constance Ann Fitzgerald, and Puppet Skin by Danger Slater. I'm happy to say that I've been making good progress on my goals, and this one in particular was an absolute blast to read. I laughed. I cringed. I gasped. The story always kept me guessing, and to me, was a mixture of Nightmare on Elm Street meets Groundhog Day.

So do enjoy our chat below, and be sure to check out Shit Luck along with the many other cool projects Tiffany has on deck. You won't be regret it, and much like the character you're about to meet, I'm sure you'll keep coming back for more.

Trapped in a slasher movie,
Stephanie M. Wytovich


Tell us about your book. What gave you the idea to create this world, and in your opinion, what does it represent at its most literal and figurative heights?
           
Shit Luck is an absurd, dark comedy. It’s about a woman who is having such an awful time and then she dies, only to reawaken someplace else and forced to resume a different life. But her terrible luck follows her as she becomes of the focus and obsession of a crazed murderer. So even after death, she just can’t catch a break.

The idea for Shit Luck actually spawned from a Bizarre World Building workshop at BizarroCon (taught by Cody Goodfellow). The assignment was to outline a novella based on what happens to your main character after they die. Because my previous works have been so bleak, I wanted to try to write something on the funny side. So I sketched out an outline that was heavily inspired by Monty Python and slasher movies from the 80s. My idea was received so well, that my editor, who had heard about my assignment in the workshop, caught up with me during the con and asked me to actually write out the novella for publication.

This book is goofy, and as the story progresses, the protagonist realizes that there’s no point in being afraid of dying anymore. How fucking liberating is that? To live everyday as though it might be your last. So many people are preoccupied with fear of death, or what happens after death, that they don’t really live their life to the fullest. So just say, “fuck it,” and party.

Can you talk a little about the main character and the inspiration you used for her, as well as your decision to 1) leave her nameless and 2) write in second person point-of-view?
           
Oh, man. I rewrote her so many times. I went through a list of names, traits, everything. And it all felt wrong. I wasn’t having fun. So to make writing fun again, I imagined a love child between Patsy Stone and Sterling Archer. And her name being a mystery to the reader just seemed to fit. Like how fucked up is that you’re having such an awful day, and people can’t even get your name right? The second-person narrative contained the action needed to keep the story flowing. It’s easier to feel the stakes at hand because you’re imagining yourself in the shoes of the character.
           
           
What was your favorite part of the story to create and explore, and then to play devil’s advocate, what was the hardest for you? Did you find any of it cathartic to write about, and if so, in what way?

I loved creating new lives for her. Once I figured out the tone and overall arc, I was really able to go crazy with tormenting her in awful, but kind of funny ways to thicken her skin. I had the hardest time with the Heinland chapter. I rewrote that chapter so many times, and because it was a huge turning point in the protagonist’s development, I couldn’t just skip it. I nearly scrapped the entire book because I couldn’t get that chapter to work. I vented to my partner about my frustrations. We drank whiskey and talked about it, and suddenly, it made sense. I rewrote the final version of that chapter the next day.



The book itself revolves around cycles, which is something that I find fascinating as I’ve been intrigued with the concept of the uncanny and Freud’s repetition phenomena for quite some time now. In a lot of ways, Shit Luck even reads like a feminist horror version of Groundhog Day, so I have to ask, what is your favorite slasher movie? And are you excited to see Happy Death Day (October 13, Blumhouse Productions)?

I love that you said that. Thank you. I had drinks with Chuck Palahniuk and when he asked what I write, I blurted out weird feminist horror. No matter what I intend to write, the tone is always there.

Favorite slasher movie? Fuck. I can’t just pick one. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, and the Nightmare on Elm Street series all have a special place in my heart.

So I had to look up Happy Death Day. I am neither hip nor with it, and I have a really poor concept of what’s new and exciting. While parts of it feel familiar, it does seem like a fun take on a slasher film. I’ll probably watch it.


As I’m sure many people will say, there’s a powerhouse scene in the book that totally rocks the table and that’s when the main character gets her period as she’s about to get intimate. The scene immediately reminded me of the prom scene in Carrie, and the part in Nightmare on Elm Street where Krueger kills Glen. What do you think this scene represents for feminist literature, and be honest, how fun was this part to write?

It’s my favorite chapter. Once I had the idea, I typed out the whole scene in less than two hours while sitting in a coffee shop. I cackled the entire time. People are so grossed out and bummed by periods, I had to write about the grossest one I could think of: The Evil Dead version of a period. The one that no person should be able to have and still be alive. For the sake of feminist literature, or just literature in general, we need normalize natural occurrences for women and not treat it like some taboo topic. The more casual and comfortable people talk and write about women pissing, shitting, burping, farting, menstruating, the less shocking chapters like this one will seem.


How would you describe your writing style to those who are new to your work?

Terse. Weird. Feminist and punk as fuck.

What is next in store for your readers?

I’m currently writing a weird crime novel about a violent gang of young women. It’s called Perdida, and it’s due out in Spring of 2018.

I’m also curating and editing an anthology for King Shot Press, titled Nasty! It’ll feature a collection of non-fiction essays from female-identified writers sharing their experiences in finding the power and courage to be who they are and do what they do. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood.

I’ll have a short story in Word Horde’s Tales From a Talking Board anthology, and Clash Media’s Tragedy Queens anthology. There’s also a novelette I’m dropping later this month as a tribute to my best friend who passed away last year.

People are welcome to follow me on social media for all the crazy updates.


Who are some of your influences in the genre? Do you have any writing rituals that you tend to follow either before/during/or after you write?

I grew up obsessing over the words from R.L. Stein, Garcia Marquez, Borges, and Plath. Carlton Mellick III got me into the Bizarro Fiction genre. My reading is all over the place, but current literary references for inspiration are Roberto Bolano, Julio Cortazar, and Violet LeVoit. I’m also heavily influenced by the works of David Lynch.

Before I write anything, I have to have a general trajectory mapped out in my head. Scenes play like visions. And if my brain is blocked, I sit in warm water and meditate. Short stories I have to write in one day, so I’ll plan for weeks until I can visualize the whole thing. If I can’t finish the story in that day, I usually end up scrapping everything I wrote and start over.

I work best late at night or early in the morning. I’ll drink so much coffee, my hands shake. I talk out loud, pace, and physically act out scenes. During times that I’m writing, I’m grateful that my partner is also a writer, so he understands what I’m doing and doesn’t think I’m (too) crazy.

When I finish a project, I treat myself to something nice. Always.

What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

I’m currently working through Many Moons by Modern Women and Person/a by Elizabeth Ellen. I’m also reading advance copies of work from Nate Southard and Lucas Mangum. Books I have not touched yet, but hope to soon are The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan, The Warblers by Amber Fallon, We Will Never Meet In Real Life by Samantha Irby, Caca Dolce by Chelsea Martin, Itza by Rios de la Luz, Nails by MP Johnson, and Come Home, We Love You Still by Justin Grimbol.

If you could give one piece of advice to new writers, what would it be?


Keep writing and always work to improve your craft. Also, don’t be a dick. 

Bio: 

Tiffany Scandal is the author of three books. The first, THERE'S NO HAPPY ENDING, is part of the 2013/2014 New Bizarro Author Series from Eraserhead Press. Her second book, JIGSAW YOUTH (Ladybox Books, 2015), has made numerous "Best Of" lists and is available as an audiobook which the author has narrated herself. She returns to Eraserhead Press for the release of her third and newest book, titled SHIT LUCK, which is already making waves and considered to be a great introduction to the Bizarro Fiction genre. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in Huck Magazine, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Living Dead Magazine, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, and a handful of anthologies. She is also a part-time model and photographer and the products of both endeavors can be found online and in print - most noteably: Suicide Girls, Auxiliary Magazine, Rise Tattoo Magazine, and a few artbooks. She currently resides in Portland, Oregon.

Twitter: tiffanyscandal
Instagram: rockpapersatan

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Alice in Wonderland and My Top Five Favorite Fantasy Movies

I collect editions of Alice in Wonderland, and this week, a rather exciting addition to my display showed up in the mail for me. While we were at dinner the other night, Dennis found a copy of the book with illustrations by Salvador Dali to commemorate the story's 150th anniversary. Naturally, I had to have it, and honestly, the book is absolutely gorgeous and I highly recommend it if you're interested or a book collector, like myself.

This alone got me thinking about fantasy and how that while I'm drawn to horror, there's no denying that I fell down the rabbit whole with fantasy as a young girl and have been smitten by the genre ever since. I love the idea of make-believe and fantastical places and creatures. I was--and remain to be--fascinated by mythology and fairy tales and the concept of folklore. I used to pretend there were monsters and fairies under my bed and play under there for hours. I had imaginary friends that I chatted with and fought with and quite honestly, scared the hell out of my parents with, but what I'm getting at here is that I was always somewhere else, the girl with an imagination too big to be contained in one room. I needed worlds to disappear to, to play and get beautifully, wondrously lost in. 

Even thinking about these memories makes me smile, and as such, I wanted to share with you my top five favorite fantasy movies, Alice and Wonderland excluded because honestly, there's no competition there. She's my girl and everyone needs to smoke hookah with an existentialist Caterpillar at least once in their life. 

1. Pans Labyrinth: This is one of my most favorite movies and the soundtrack is utterly gorgeous; I write to it often. Here, Ofelia, the stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into a dark, yet beautiful fantasy world complete with one of my favorite monsters. This movie speaks to me on so many levels because every child wants to be the chosen one, the one who has this secret destiny waiting for her just around the corner. Ofelia escapes the tragedy of the world around her by falling into legend, and as a result, we get to see how the light in the darkness, the life in all this death. 

2. Labyrinth: Ah, the goblin king. What a great story, and you can't beat David Bowie showing up in your bedroom to grant your wishes and take your little brother away. The characters are great--shout out to Ludo, who is my favorite!-and Jim Henson really went above and beyond here with his puppets. I remember watching this for the first time clear as day.

3. The Wizard of Oz/ Return to Oz: A classic at its finest, The Wizard of Oz is a staple in my family. I swear my dad can recite the entire movie by heart, and the lot of us practically raced to the theater when Wicked came to town. As a kid, I loved the journey and world building that the story lets us be a part of--the Emerald City always my personal favorite-- and the Wicked Witch is just a hoot. In fact, my brother was terrified of her for a very long time when we were kids. But as I grew up, I grew to appreciate the books as well and the depth of Oz and the cities beyond it made me fall in love with it even more. 

When I saw Return to Oz, I actually quite liked it better and yes, that's partly due to the fact that it picks up in an asylum and Fairuza Balk--who I love--is Dorothy. Throw in a headless queen and a giant pumpkin though and it's damned near impossible for me not to fall in love.

4. Bridge to Terabithia: This book broke me and the movie did a good job of salting my wounds, too. I love stories where worlds are built as a way to cope with stress, depression, or tragedy, and this book hit those points hard. I love how it details friendship through a world built around trolls, monsters, and ogres. After I read this book, I went outside with my neighbor and we built our first fort in the woods. 

5. The Dark Crystal: First things first: Fizzgig is my spirit animal and probably my favorite creature of all time. If ever I connected with something, it's that feisty little fella. But jokes aside, I love how dark yet spiritual this move is. The prophetic nature of it and the Mystics paired with the grotesque nature of the Skeksis is alluring and trippy and I love how crystal healing and chaos magic comes into play here. Plus, Aughra- Keeper of Secrets is sassy and funny as hell and that's what I have a Pop Funko of her on my desk.

NOTE: Hat tip to pretty much everything that Roald Dahl ever created. I devoured: James and the Giant Peach, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and The Witches as a kid. In fact, The Witches absolutely terrified me, and after a recent viewing of it, I can see why. Hell, it still scared me.

Also, a shout out to The Spiderwick Chronicles.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

BUILDING PUPPETS IN THE MADHOUSE: AN INTERVIEW WITH DANGER SLATER

Hello Friends--

Today in the MADHOUSE, I'm interviewing Danger Slater about his book, Puppet Skin. I remember first hearing about this book from John Skipp on the Three Guys with Beards podcast, a weekly show were Christopher Golden, Jonathan Maberry, and James A. Moore 'get together to discuss popular culture, books, movies, and whatever else crosses their minds.' The idea behind it--middle school children earning their marionette strings at graduation and being turned into puppets--was fascinating to me, and the uncanny grounding that it had immediately caught my interest. It's been on my TBR pile for some time now, and boy am I glad I finally got to it! I'm very much looking forward to checking out more of Slater's work, and I urge you all to do the same.

With puppet feed and nightmares,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Tell us about your book. What gave you the idea to create this world, and in your opinion, what does it represent?

I have no idea where this or any other idea comes from. You know how it is. Or maybe you don’t. I don’t know. But for me, random shit passes through my head all day like white noise on the radio, provoked by all manner of catalysts. So it’s not just snippets of stories, nascent and half-formed, but it’ll be like ANYTHING at ANYTIME. I look at my cat and think: Catto Blatto Farty Fatto. It’s nonsense, so most of it floats on by. No worries. But every once and a while I’ll fixate on something. And, even rarer than that, it’s starts getting bigger and bigger. Snowballing. And then, all of a sudden, oh look, this idea is the size of a book now!

That said, Puppet Skin is about a world where all human children are turned into wooden marionettes on the day they graduate middle school, converted into wood in a violent and disgusting process that involves attaching strings that hang down from the sky and fill the person up with ‘puppetfeed.’ It’s a book about growing up, and all the terror that brings!

Can you talk a little about Hannah’s character? I really loved the dichotomy that you let her have because while she’s rebellious, she’s also obedient, and I’m curious how you found the balance with her as she fights the concept of getting her strings.

I didn’t think finding a balance was all that hard. You can be rebellious and obedient, in turn. As Walt Whitman wrote “I am large, I contain multitudes.” No opinion, no experience, nothing is absolute, and no singular decision can encompass the entirety of ‘you.’ This is especially true as a teenager -as Hannah is in the book- when you’re really in the process of exploring all these avenues within yourself. People think school is all about learning how to do math and reading The Scarlet Letter and shit (and it is a little bit about that stuff, sure) but it’s also where you learn if you want to be a part of the system, or be outside it, and where disillusionment and liberation come at you in a steady stream. You gotta ask yourself: does “growing up” mean acquiescing to someone else’s version of adulthood? Is this inevitable?  For some of us, and I include myself in this lot, growing up is an unending process. Perhaps it’s my providence as a writer -or at least, a task I’ve opted to take on- trying to understand why, even when the answer is and will remain ineffable. So yeah, I just tried to imbue Hannah with all of that. Easy-peasy lemon-squeezy.

What was your favorite part of the story to create and explore? Did you find any of it cathartic to write about, and if so, in what way?

I put a lot of myself into my characters. Part of the joy of writing this book was figuring out where the pieces of Hannah (a teen girl) and me (an adult man) intersect. My thought was, if I could hone in on that, on the similarities between her and I, then her struggle should be relatable to just about everyone. I remember asking a fellow writer, Jessica McHugh (who writes a YA book series, among other things) about writing a teen girl character. I’m like, “What do teen girls talk/care about?” and she was just like “I dunno dude, same shit as everyone else.” Haha. That advice was very helpful to me, because it was so obvious! Hannah’s struggle is the same as my struggle is the same as yours, though the circumstances may vary, the emotional core or want/need/fear/success a universally human experience.

Personally, puppets (mannequins, dolls, you name it) really freak me out. I thought one of the scarier parts of the book were Hannah’s interactions with her parents because her Mom came off as very flat (which, duh? She’s a puppet), but her dad was almost non-existent, literally there to go through the motion and only come alive when spoken to. It was almost like a case of the body snatchers for me, and I found it very impressive the way you pulled that off but still managed to create this parental relationship with Hannah and her parents throughout. Having said that, what part in the story was the most difficult to write and how did you power through it?

Most difficult….hmmmmm….I guess, the most difficult thing is trying to answer this question. Haha. I don’t know. It’s all difficult. And at the same time, it’s not. Out of everything I’ve ever written, this came out the easiest. This might be because it was the most personal. And if you’ve read the book, you know it kinda wallows in this gray area between hope and despair, so trying to keep in that headspace for the eight months or so it took to write the book, was not necessarily a pleasurable experience, but it was a cathartic one, so I guess it’s a wash.  

I thought the infection scenes were some of the more powerful parts of the book, and they really stood out to me as this mishmash of body horror meets creature feature fiction. As such, I’m kind of curious…why puppets? What fascinates or repulses you about them, and do you have a favorite story or movie that you found particularly influential for this book?

I mean, why not puppets? It’s perfect for the metaphor and they’re creepy as fuck. The book couldn’t have worked any other way.

I’m a big fan of body-horror in general, and the more visceral the better. Stuff like Cronenberg’s The Fly  or Carpenter’s The Thing, stuff where you can’t trust your own body, or the bodies of people around you. But I also like campy stuff too, with a bit of humor, like the stuff you find Troma putting out. And if we’re talking movies, there is, of course, people like Charlie Kaufman and the films he wrote that, while not horror, really cut to the core of what being human means, which in itself can be quite horrifying. Sometimes the scariest stuff isn’t the monster that lurks in the dark, it’s knowing you’re all alone, and there’s no such thing as monsters. I guess the idea is, hopefully, taking all these disparate elements and figuring out what to use and where and when to see if I can’t build something exciting and original on the shoulders of the greats.

How would you describe your writing style to those who are new to your work?

I write like a trash can full of fireworks going pop-pop-pop-pop.

What is next in store for your readers? Have you considered writing a sequel to Puppet Skin?

A sequel? Hell no! Everything that this story needed to say has already been said, and unless someone hands me a big wad of cash, I’m personally not interested in revisiting it. That said: SOMEONE HAND ME A BIG WAD OF CASH PLEASE.

Up next, though (Nov. 2017, Fungasm Press) I have a book called He Digs A Hole, a domestic body-horror story dealing with marriage about a man who wakes up one night and decides to cut off his hands and replaces them with gardening trowels and begin digging an impossibly deep hole in his own backyard, much to the chagrin of his wife and neighbors. And that’s just the first chapter. 

Who are some of your influences in the genre? Do you have any writing rituals that you tend to follow either before/during/or after you write?

I like to write first thing when I wake up while listening to music, really loud. I have a playlist I’ve been building for years. It’s got almost 900 carefully curated songs, things that mostly either give me an emotional reaction (I love female vocalists like Amanda Palmer and Regina Spektor) or like, really loud abrasive punk stuff that gets me all jacked-up. But I’ll mix it up with movie soundtracks, EDM, folk, hip-hop, and whatever the fuck else that happens to speak to my soul. I’ll find my fingers typing to the rhythm of the music sometimes. It’s preeeeeetttty cool.

What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

I just started reading The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. She’s just the goddamn best. I didn’t discover her until recently (I mean, I knew who she was, but I had never read her until recently). I haven’t checked out that Handmaiden’s Tale TV show they based off her book yet, but far as I can tell from the commercials, it looks pretty neat. After that I was thinking of rereading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, which I haven’t read in probably 15 years, but remember really enjoying. The last two books I finished were The Big Meat, by Carlton Mellick III and The Warblers by Amber Fallon. Both excellent.

If you could give one piece of advice to new writers, what would it be?

If you ever win $20,000 on a scratch-off lottery ticket, you should throw a party so massive that you spend the whole thing in one night. Then, the next morning, when you wake up all red-eyed and hungover, if you’re really serious about this thing, start writing a book.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A FINAL NOTE TO MY NANA.

When I was little, my grandparents used to watch me while my mom and dad were at work. I have letters that I used to write my Nana and practically have her signature memorized from all the cards I've saved over the years. There are countless pictures of me sitting in my Nana’s laundry basket and smiling, and if I close my eyes, I can almost hear her say “how can a little girl sleep so much?” and then bring me pancakes while I watch cartoons in her bed.

Baby Stephanie and her Nana
When I think of her, I think of hot chocolate and freshly made cookies, clip on earrings and big, beaded necklaces, and the way her hands used to hold mine in the hospital room when she was scared. I think of her trying to teach me how to cook and then giving me a plate of meatballs and telling me to go watch the news with my pap because I was measuring everything wrong, and I remember the first time I baked cookies with her—early on when she was first diagnosed with dementia—and how her cookies were triple the size she used to make them. She’d get angry but then laugh really hard at the baking sheet, and god, her laugh was magical. A big, full body laugh that just lit up the room.

I remember playing bingo with her in the kitchen while we watched The Price is Right and she’d make me a bologna sandwich for lunch, and I remember asking her how to speak Polish and then her trying to teach me a few words here and there while we sat together on the porch swing outside. My love of flowers stems from my grandparents and the beautiful garden they had together, so when I see hydrangeas, I will forever think of her, just like how when I see roses, my granfather is the first face in my mind.

We used to spend every Christmas day at my Nana’s, so when it snows, I’ll think of her then, too, along with all the polish food she’d make next to my pap’s freshly grown beets and my demands for her potato salad. 

At dessert, she’d fill the entire dining room with her cookies, and it was always a hard decision trying to figure out which one’s were worth the calories that night—but it was never really a problem because she’d send all of us home with a box of cookies and a few nut rolls for good measure.

I don’t have to tell you, but I’m really going to miss her baking.
There is a love and a comfort in your grandmother’s cooking that can’t quite be measured my anyone else.
Like Mother like Daughter like Granddaughter

I could go on and on for hours, but what I’m getting at here is that I think I’ve been really blessed in life to have the relationship I did with my grandmother. We would go Christmas shopping together every year and when I got Edgar, I immediately got in my car and drove the hour it took to get to her house just so she could see all his puppy wrinkles. She was an extraordinary woman who loved her family and traveled the world and the memories we share are endless. In fact, I can’t think of a single event that she missed, whether it was my softball games (rain or shine), or my graduation days (high school-graduate school). I don’t know if she ever understood what I do or write exactly, but that didn’t stop her from coming to my poetry readings and meeting my friends and colleagues while I got my horror on. Every time that I went to see her, she’d ask me if I was still writing, if I was teaching. I would always tell her yes, and she would just brusquely say “good,” as if that was the only thing that mattered.

But my Nana had been sick for a long time and the past two years have been heart-breakingly difficult for all of us. In a lot of ways as I get ready for her funeral this afternoon, it’s like I’m mourning the loss of her for a second time. I’ve sewn imaginary curtains with her in the hospital room and whispered names under my breath so she could remember them and not be embarrassed. I’ve gone and sat with her and laughed while she told me about how handsome Eric Dance is and then proceeded to blush when he came on the screen, and I remember bringing her a huge bouquet of blue and gray flowers and then her yelling at me for spending money and shoving a ten back in my pocket.

Whether it was at the hospital, the house, the nursing home, or the hospice, I always tried to tell her how beautiful she was and how much I loved her because I never knew when the last time I would see her would be. She would blow me kisses and then kick my ass in rummy, because no matter what stage of Alzheimer’s she had, that woman could play cards and she was fierce.

We did have one conversation that I’ll never forget though, and it was in the hospital after her first fall. I was holding her hand while they were putting a catheter in and she looked at me and said “Stephanie, I’m so sorry you have to watch your grandmother die,” and my heart just broke in half.
I tried my best not to openly weep, and I held her hand and told her that I loved her and that there was no place I would rather be than next to her, that she spent her whole life taking care of me and now it was my turn to hold her when she was scared and love her like she’s always loved me.

And then she smiled with tears in her eyes.

Me and Nana, Christmas, 2014
Nana,

I will never, ever forget that moment, and I wouldn’t trade a single moment that we spent together, good or bad, sick or healthy. I know that you’re going to look beautiful today and mass is going to be gorgeous tomorrow. Dennis is going to cantor, and I know you only met him twice, but he’s that handsome guy who gave me the ring you thought was pretty, yeah? Well, he has a beautiful voice so I’m happy you’ll finally get to hear him sing.

Mom and I are going to do the readings and then I have something special planned for you at the cemetery. I think it will make you smile.

Oh, and try not to clean everything in Heaven, okay? I’m sure God has everything under control. Oh, and say hi to great-grandma for me. I saw a picture of her yesterday and you look just like her.

I love you so much.
See you soon. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Five Movies That Ruined My Childhood

Greetings Horror Fans,

I recently got back from seeing IT the other night, and holy shit was it fantastic. Not only did it exceed my expectations, but it really gave me a lot to think about it terms of 1) why this movie/book is so terrifying and 2) why this movie/book is so successful. I love everything about the story from the concept of fear being individualized, to the family dynamics it explores, to Pennywise the Dancing Clown luring Georgie down the sewer. 

But this post isn't about why I loved It. 
This post is about the movies that ruined my childhood.

Now let me be frank--I was way too young to be watching any of these movies, but you folks know me, and some of you even know my family, so none of this should really surprise you. We bleed monsters and madmen here in the Wytovich clan. Having said that, the fear that this movies instilled in me at a young age not only shaped my phobias growing up, but they also fascinated me, hence one of the many reasons I grew up to write horror. So before I start the list, I want to thank the writers and directors of these films because without them, I would be entirely too normal and life would be very boring. 

1. Salem's Lot by Stephen King; Tobe Hooper (1979)

I can still vividly remember watching this in the basement with my mom. She was ironing and I was curled up on the couch, my eyes glued to the screen as Danny Glick came to Mark Petrie's window and asked to be let in. Growing up, I had a love/hate relationship with vampires because while I was completely enamored by them, they also scared the shit out of me. I had two windows in my bedroom growing up, and this movie made me check that they were locked each night...and sleep with the covers around my neck.


2. Pet Sematary by Stephen King; Mary Lambert (1989)

This was the first book that I read by King, and I remember reading this one in my bedroom and staring out the window at our shed. We had our own little pet sematary back there, complete with my goldfish (Cory, Shawn, and Topanga) and most recently at the time, my rabbit, Fluffy. Now Fluffy was my first pet, and she died a truly horrific death, one that I still see in my nightmares on occasion, and god dammit if after reading that book and watching that movie if I didn't think she was going to come back like Church did and eat me alive. To this day, I still don't like going near the shed at my parent's house, and we rarely, if ever, bring up Fluffy anymore.


3. Arachnophobia by Dan Jakoby, Al Williams, Wesley Strick; Frank Marhsall (1990)

I have yet to watch this movie in its entirety and I probably never will. If anything is responsible for my crippling fear of spiders, then this move is what's to blame. And yeah, yeah, I know. B-Horror at it's finest and all that jazz, but I will never forgive my dad for calling me downstairs to see that spider attack the girl in the shower. Literally, every day when I wash my hair, I think of this scene. Little did I know that in a few short years, I'd be reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and dealing with a whole different mess of problems...


4. Tremors by S. S. Wilson, Brent Maddock; Ron Underwood (1990)

This one actually makes me laugh a lot when I think about it, because I can remember being in my Jasmine pajamas and jumping on the couch with my dad while I played 'sandworm attack' in the living room. I was terrified to walk on the floor after watching this, so my dad pushed the couches together and set up chairs so I could still play. When it was time for bed, I merely crawled across the couches and chairs until I got to the steps and went to my room. The fear didn't last long, but man do I remember being sure I was going to be sucked into the floor that night.



5. It by Stephen King; Tommy Lee Wallace (1990)

There are countless reasons why this movie scarred me as a kid, and as a result, I wasn't able to watch the entire movie until I was in my early twenties. I remember coming downstairs and asking my dad what he was watching, and before I knew it, a fucking clown was climbing out of a shower drain and trying to eat Eddie. Jesus. As if I already wasn't afraid of getting attacked by a mutant South American Spider, now I had to worry about Pennywise the Dancing Clown trying to lure me in a sewer, which ironically, I still can't walk over today without having a mini panic attack. Also, if you're keeping track, Stephen King has a solid 3/5 here and therefore wins the title of responsibility for my childhood nightmares.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Seton Hill University Mass Book Signing Tomorrow (Friday, June 23)

Hi Everyone--

I'll be signing books tomorrow, Friday June 23rd from 7-9:30 p.m. at Seton Hill University. In addition to Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, and An Exorcism of Angels, I'll also have my Bram Stoker award-winning collection, Brothel, available, in addition to my debut novel, The Eighth.

Please see below for the official press release.
I hope to see you there!

Public Book Signing Hosted by Seton Hill University June 23

GREENSBURG, Pa. – More than 40 authors will participate in the In Your Write Mind book-signing event on Friday, June 23, from 7-9:30 p.m. at Seton Hill University’s Performing Arts Center, 100 Harrison Ave., Greensburg. The event is part of the 18th annual Writing Popular Fiction Workshop, “In Your Write Mind,” sponsored by the WPF alumni group.  The event is free and open to the public.

All authors participating in the In Your Write Mind book-signing event are published writers who are current students, alumni, faculty members or guests of Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program. The authors write in a variety of genres, including mystery, romance, young adult, and science fiction.

Authors of note include Victoria Thompson and Jen Brooks.

“I love participating in the IYWM booksigning each year,” said Thompson, bestselling author of the Gaslight Mystery Series. “What a great opportunity to talk with fans and see what other writers are doing.”

Jen Brooks, author of In A World Just Right, which was named one of VOYA's top YA science fiction/fantasy/horror books of the year, says, "I love this event because the authors exhibit a truly wide variety of genres and publishers, and all have a local connection through SHU. I'll be signing books, talking writing, and listening to readers brainstorm what worlds they would create, if they had the power.”

Seton Hill’s unique Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program teaches students to write marketable novels in popular genres like mystery, romance, science fiction, horror and fantasy. Additional specialties include literature for children and adolescents, and cross-genre blends like romantic suspense or young adult mysteries. Students attend two weeklong, on-campus residencies each year to master the core elements of fiction writing and effective marketing and to gain inspiration from faculty mentors and special guests, all published authors in genre fiction. Established authors mentor students one-on-one as they work toward completing a market-ready manuscript from home. Readings, classes and online discussion about the history, trends and techniques of genre fiction add depth to the student's experience.   For more information about the Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill, visithttp://fiction.setonhill.edu or contact Seton Hill’s Office of Graduate and Adult Studies at 724-838-4209.