Saturday, October 3, 2020

TRICK OR TREAT: LUCY SNYDER'S HALLOWEEN SEASON IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER

Hello Friends and Fiends,

We’re quickly approaching the release date for Lucy Snyder’s short story collection Halloween Season on October 5th. Now during a time when we can all use a little more holiday cheer, Halloween Season certainly takes us to where we need and want to be. For dedicated fans, the season begins when the leaves start turning autumn colors and doesn't finish until Hallowtide ends in November. With it comes a whole lot of fun: scary movies and stories, haunted houses, seasonal sweets, spooky decorations, costume parties, and of course trick or treat. But Halloween is also a deeply spiritual time for some; it's an opportunity to remember and honor loved ones who have passed on.

Master storyteller Lucy A. Snyder has filled her cauldron with everything that Halloween means to her and distilled it into a spell-binding volume of stories. Within these pages you'll find thrills and chills, hilarity and horrors, the sweet and the naughty.

One of the best things about Halloween is you don’t have to be yourself. So go ahead and try on a new mask or two ... you may discover hidden talents as a witch, a pirate, a space voyager, a zombie fighter, or even an elf. This is the perfect collection to celebrate the season of the dead or to summon those heady autumn vibes whenever you like. You may even find a couple of tales that evoke a certain winter holiday that keeps trying to crowd in on the fun!

Now in anticipation of this sweet little treat, I wanted to share a personal spooky season tale with all of you in celebration of the most wonderful time of the year.

So most of you know that my family is crazy (and I say that with love--hi mom and dad!). We used to have these really intense scare wars when my brother and I lived at home, and this lead to my dad stuffing a clown in the back seat of my car, to my brother dressing up like a clown and hiding in the shower, to my Mom dressing up like Ghostface and jumping out of the woods at me while I was riding my quad.

Almost all of these moments ended with me screaming and crying and being terrified to ever go in my garage or my shower or the woods alone again, but the one prank that definitely stood out among the rest goes to my dad and crowns him the Wytovich Scare War Champion.

Here’s what happened:

I was notorious for forgetting my house key as a kid. Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to break into our house or my parent’s cars in order to hit the garage door opener so I wouldn’t have to sit outside in my driveway until my parents came home. I also hated Halloween as a kid because like I said, my parents are crazy, and once October hit, our house became a war zone. For instance, I would find dolls underneath my window, plastic spiders were literally everywhere, and probably the best example of this is that when I was afraid of monkeys as a kid, my dad went out and bought a full guerilla body suit and tackled me while watching TV one night.

Ah, memories.


So one weekend, we’re decorating for Halloween and my dad is encouraging me to help him with the decorations as a way to kind of overcome my fears (yay exposure therapy!). We had this really creepy old man mask that just terrified me, and every year we would grab some of my dad’s old work clothes and boots and kind of stuff this terrifying man on our front porch to act as this infernal greeter—which is funny because we lived in the middle of nowhere so we never had trick or treaters. But I digress. So I spent the day helping our creepy guest get situated on the porch, and then I got ready for school.

When I came home the next day, I noticed that my key wasn’t in my bag. My dad’s truck was in the driveway though, so I breathed a sigh of relief and walked over to the front porch, forgetting that my nemesis was there waiting for me. I can vividly see my younger self staring at this old man on the porch, and can remember telling myself that it was just a joke, that I literally stuffed him and put him together last weekend, and that there was nothing to worry about. It was fun. A Halloween joke. Everything would be fine and there was no reason why I couldn’t walk up those steps and ring that doorbell.

So I took a deep breath and ran.

I rang the doorbell once, twice.

Nothing.

So then I started knocking on the door.

Still nothing.

Eventually I walked over to the window to kind of peer inside. I started yelling for my dad because I could hear that the TV was on, so I knew he had to be around there somewhere, and then that’s when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.



At first it was subtle, something that was easy to second guess, to chalk up to fear, adrenaline. I remembered what my dad had said about conquering my fears, so I walked closer to the man, told him that he didn’t scare me, that he wasn’t real….

And that’s when my dad—who earlier had put on the mask and his old work clothes and boots and sat in that chair waiting for me to come home—jumped out, grabbed me, and nearly gave me a heart attack. I screamed, cried, and then laughed so hard because my dad looked ridiculous and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t noticed that it was him in there that whole time.

And sure, okay, this story is a little rough, maybe even borderline mean, but you have to remember that my dad and I lived to play pranks on each other when I was little (and still kind of do now, to be honest), and it was these types of scares and jokes that lead me to deeply love and appreciate Halloween and honestly helped me to conquer my fears. Truly, I could tell you a thousand stories about how afraid of everything I used to be as a kid, but by my mom and dad removing those fears and helping me to realize my strength, it allowed me to become stronger, which is why I will always think that horror is the best, most practical genre because it teaches us how to navigate life and defeat our monsters—real or imaginary.

Plus, now I can go on and scare… I mean help…other children, too.

[insert maniacal laughter here]



Trick or Treat!

Thanks for participating in our trick or treat cover reveal! RDSP is offering a postcard promo pack that will include a sticker and at least 2 postcards (not necessarily the ones pictured). To receive your promo pack email your address to us. Unfortunately we can only send promo packs to US addresses so we've also put together a printable download for anyone outside the US.

More Treats

Visit all the houses on the block to collect all the treats. Here are the current stops and treats.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

INTO THE FOREST WITH CYNTHIA PELAYO: AN INTERVIEW

Good afternoon, friends and fiends--

Today in the Madhouse, I'm welcoming back a dear friend and colleague: Cynthia Pelayo. Now I've made it no secret over the years that I'm a huge fan of her work, and I feel fortunate to have grown to know her and form a friendship with her over the years as we've worked together. 

When she told me her plans to publish a collection of poetry inspired by true crime cases, I knew I had to get my hands on it. My response to the book can be found in a review here.

With that said, I didn't feel like just reviewing this book was enough. There is a lot of pain and suffering between the pages of this collection and so I wanted to dive in a little deeper and talk to Cina about her process, her research, and her overall message of intent with this piece. As always, her answers were beautifully crafted and done so in a way that speaks to and illuminates both micro and macro-level issues happening in our country at this time. 

Read carefully and with caution.

Always,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

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

INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH is a collection of true crime poetry of missing and murdered women in the United States. The collection covers 109 cases of women ranging from days old to the elderly.

I consume a lot of true crime, probably more than is considered normal. I’m particularly interested in cases involving women and women of color. For example, here in Chicago there have been over 50 murdered women found in dumpsters, abandoned buildings, and their deaths all seem very similar leading the community to believe there is a serial killer operating in certain communities. Law enforcement dismissed this theory, but what I found so strange is that it was difficult to find the names of these women in articles or on the news. I wanted to know their names, more about them, and the moments leading up to when they went missing. 

With so many of the true crime cases that I reviewed, even before this collection, it’s often the normality around these cases that contributes to why they are so shocking. A young girl leaves church and is abducted by two men who brutalize her, kill her, wrap her in plastic and throw her from a cliff. An older woman is driving to visit family on a regular trip, stops at a gas station and is never seen again. A young woman goes missing within a block of getting off the bus heading toward her destination. Leaving church. Stopping at the gas station. Getting off the bus and walking down a block. These are all such normal activities, and in an instant these women were gone. I wanted to explore that very real danger, that very real threat — that there are awful people out there. If you don’t see them then maybe they are watching you, because that’s what happened in these cases and many more. 

In terms of literature, I wanted to create a response specific to each case that reflected the tone of the case. In some instances the poem is told from the perspective of a family member, a detective, an outsider, or the missing or murdered woman herself. I wanted to bring the reader right into this horrific moment. I wanted them to see the blood on the sweater, the missing hair tie discarded in the dirt, smell the burning tires of a car set of fire, feel the zip ties pinching a woman’s wrists, and experience the complete anguish, damage and loss to these women’s family. With the death of a person, there is resolution, even in cases of homicide when the killer has been caught, tried and imprisoned. Yet, with a missing person, or the discovery of a loved ones remains with no prosecution of the killer, there are only desperate questions. I wanted to create that emotional response with these poems; danger, fear, loss, and the manic anxiety of not knowing what happened. 

Figuratively, I wanted to make a commentary that none of us really know what people are capable of, whether they are our family or friends, or the stranger that is silently watching us in a store aisle, or behind the computer screen.

Someone did these things to these women and in many cases these people are still moving about their lives normally, and that’s a very scary thing, because there are rapists and murders living among us, next door to us or with us. There’s this unsaid belief that serial killers are gnarled, beastly, and can be identified by how they look, but that’s not true. The reason killers are able to kill, sometimes with great ease, is because they are approachable, they look “normal,” they know how to act kind, and they know how to make us laugh and how to make us feel comfortable when we are with them. That is how so many killers are able to lure their victims. There are of course killers that don’t play this game, they just come up behind you and snatch you in the street, and that doesn’t always happen in the dark, creepy alley. Sometimes it happens in the parking lot of a Target or in a playground.

We should all be concerned that if these people did this once then they are certainly capable of doing it again, and to anyone.

There’s this assumption that we are living in a society that has these rules and laws, but I do not believe we are as safe as we think we are, so literally I wanted to show that as well as figuratively as well.

This book is a highly intense and emotional read. I can’t even imagine the strength it took to write, not to mention how it must have felt to sit (and sleep) with these images time and time again. Can you talk a little about how you took care of yourself while writing this? Any little self-care tips you can share for other writers tackling similar issues in their writing?

I was not very well while I was working on this, and it’s actually now difficult for me to go back and read some of the poems. I went back and read the intro poem the other night and that was enough for me to just become so angry and just start screaming because I was so mad that I could not do more for them. So many of these women are forgotten. They were here once. Someone fed them and bathed them, and took them to school on their first day. I’m sure many of them had a favorite toy, a favorite food. They were loved. They were real. They were not imagined, but for many their names are forgotten and their cases are cold.

I spent too much time with many of them, looking at crime scene photographs, pictures of the last items many of the Jane Does wore when found. What was also hard was reading the blogs and social media pages family members maintain for these women. Some of the blogs serve as a space for the family to talk to their loved one like they are there. Others just speak to the void every few months, or few years, asking if anyone knows anything.


So with all of these emotions that I took on, this anger, hate, rage, grief, and I grieved for each and every one of them, I knew I had to step away and eat, and sleep because that was what was best for me and for them. I was telling their story and that kept me focused.

This type of writing is brutal. It’s like a reverse exorcism. You are not expelling the bad. You are taking in all of these awful things, these awful images, these awful comments and transcripts from killers. You somehow have to create a psychic shield between you and it where you are taking in all of this information, and I believe you will be changed by it, because I was. What you cannot do is allow it to harm you to the point where the work stops and you become ill.

What helped the most was talking about it. For one case, I went on for three hours just talking about it straight to my husband one night and he just looked at me and said I had to let them go for the night and sleep and move on to the next. I would get mad at him when he would do this, because I felt like I was being made to abandon these women, but I knew it was best for me to continue. So, if you are going to move into something like this please find someone you can talk to, who will not tell you to shut up, who will listen, just listen, but know when it’s the right time to delicately tell you to move on for the work and for your health.

The amount of research that had to go into this collection was, I imagine, quite immense. Can you speak to what your research process was and talk about how you selected these cases?

It was definitely intense. I started writing, and then I quickly learned I needed an Excel file, and it’s funny somehow after the book was published one of my children deleted the master Excel file I had created. It was this massive file that had the names, dates, locations, ages, genders, races, and corresponding links to these cases. I used a few missing person’s websites like The Charley Project (charleyproject.org), NamUS (namus.gov), FBI.gov, and a few others. I also listened to true crime podcasts for relevant cases or watched true crime programs or videos on YouTube. I searched through chat rooms, and went down rabbit holes of theories and blame. I’ve been slowly trying to recreate the file for my personal records.

So I stayed very organized with this project, recording a lot of demographic information and saving the websites where I found research for each case, and I would save those sites to the corresponding person in my Excel file and then go back to them and reference them as I was building the poem. A single poem could easily take me 8+ hours to write, and that included the time I needed for research on the case.

Then I wanted another device, because once I started looking at the immense number of cases it was overwhelming and I needed to focus somehow. So I decided on selecting at least one case per state. I thought that could also show everyone that this isn’t an issue isolated to one area or region. This happens everywhere. Having the Excel helped me then create some balance, because I wanted to include many women of color — since it seems women of color disproportionately go missing. I also wanted to be sure I was including younger women, the elderly, and just overall a range of women from various socio-economic backgrounds. In looking back, the cases do skew young here and I could have balanced that out better, but some of these cases were so compelling, especially so many of these children, that I had to include them.

I wanted to make sure that the majority of the cases were not high profile in that they had not been covered extensively by the true crime community. I also wanted the majority of the cases to be considered cold cases, so occurring quite some time ago, but still recent enough so that it makes an impact when thinking about it. I think the oldest case I wrote about was in the early 1970s.

There was definitely an emotional connection that I was looking for when researching and selecting the cases. I wanted something that I could connect to or that I thought strongly another woman could connect to. For example “Messaging You,” the bus stop case I mentioned previously. This was written for Le-Shay Monea N’cole Dungey. The poem is just 29 words. It’s her texting someone that she is on the bus and she is on her way. How many of us have done that? Text someone that we are on our way? Her texts stopped when she was half a block from her destination. That struck me. She text the other person that she had gotten off the bus, which was just half a block from her destination. She proceeded to walk to that destination and in that short space she disappeared.

What draws you to the mystery and true crime genre? Have you always been interested in them, or have you found yourself recently inspired? Do you have a particular case that you find yourself coming back to time and time again?

There are two cases that personally affected my parents when they were young. I can’t say too much out of respect for them and their families, but my mother’s neighbor was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and dismembered and then later placed in her own parent’s garbage can where her parents discovered her. My mother described to me in detail how she remembered the girl’s father running outside with a blanket to cover the nude, mutilated corpse of his daughter, and that description stuck with me. It was a neighbor boy who was infatuated with the girl who had killed her and was later caught.

For my father, one of his young cousins was kidnapped and never found. There are several compelling theories that the family has discussed, and because it was a high profile case I can’t say more than that unfortunately.

So, why would my parents tell me about these awful things when I was young? I think they did it as a warning, to tell me that the real monsters are people, and these monsters can and will take you away if they had the opportunity, they will hurt you, and they will kill you and no one will ever see you again. It’s uncomfortable to hear, but it’s true.

Also, I also grew up and live in Chicago, so if you name it I’ve probably seen it.

When I was in my 20s, I had a car stop in front of me as I was waiting for the bus to go to work, and a man opened the passenger side door and told me to get in. I told him some strong words, and he got in his car, drove around, came back and then got out of his car and approached me. I ran into traffic to get away from him, figuring I’d rather get hit by a car and die in the street then be taken away by a stranger.

These are just a few personal things, but it’s probably why I’m obsessed with the idea that everything can go sideways in seconds, that there are real and cruel predators out there, and these people have no conscious and know no empathy. Some people like to think that everyone is good or has the capacity to be good. I really do not believe that, and it’s controversial to say, but I just don’t believe that some people can be rehabilitated. I completely believe that there are people out there that are cold and calculated killers and nothing short of prison or their death can stop them. I once saw an interview with a child killer who killed his best friend’s daughter. He picked her up from school, lied and said her father sent him, and he even used an emergency code word the family had established that her father told him in confidence. He took the little girl to the woods and raped and killed her, and in his prison interview when asked if released if he would do it again he said he would. We can even look at infamous serial killers. Could Ted Bundy who kidnapped, raped and murdered multiple women have been rehabilitated? We know he had sex with corpses, sometimes days after killing these women. How do you rehabilitate that? I do not believe that level of deviancy can be rehabilitated.

In terms of cases I have been obsessed with, the disappearance of Diamond and Tionda Bradley in Chicago, the West Memphis Three, Madeline McCann, the Delphi Murders, LISK (Long Island Serial Killer), serial killer Israel Keyes – we may never know how many he killed, the conspiracy of the Smiley Face Killer – is it a network of killers? Just coincidence? Margaret Ellen Fox, that one really drives me nuts, and then finally the numerous missing persons cases in our national parks.

Even though the idea of missing women and children is certainly (and unfortunately) not new, this collection feels quite timely. How do you think your book speaks to current events and topics of violence and racism in the United States on both a macro and micro scale?

One of the reasons I kept putting off writing it is because I just didn’t think it was the right time, but with the global pandemic, and socio-economic-political unrest it just was the right time. To me, the female form is sacred. A woman is sacred. She is the creator of life, of all life really. So, that this being, with all its beauty and magic, a being that has the power to create life is taken by someone and murdered just seems like the greatest offense against divinity. And I speak of the male and female form throughout this interview, but I just want to stress that I recognize all genders and all truths with regard to gender and sexuality.

People kill people for a variety of reasons, but what we are seeing so much of is people killing people in this country because of anger, hate, and/or deviance. A child is shot and killed by law enforcement because he was perceived as a threat. He was only holding a toy gun. A sleeping woman had law enforcement enter her home. Law enforcement, for whatever reason, considered a sleeping woman a threat and killed her in her own bed. A man is shot and killed by law enforcement after flagging down help when his car stopped unexpectedly. He too was considered a threat. For whatever reason, these people, and many more were killed. The same can be said for the young man who walks into a church and shoots and kills worshippers. That young man, for whatever reason, deemed that those people worshipping should not exist. And in all scenarios, it appears that the killers have no empathy or sympathy for the deaths they have caused.


Regardless of what political side one is on, and I don’t want to get political in terms of left and right or conservative or liberal because we will never agree. However, what we all can agree on is that at one time there was a human and another person deemed that they had the power and the right to kill that human.

I believe as human beings we should have the right to live without fear of another human being inflicting violence on us, but we are living in a time where women fear for their safety if they leave their house and go for a walk outside. A person of color fears for their life if they go outside for a jog. In each of these cases the threat is not some monster, but another person. Human beings are the monsters outside of our door because we are seeing over and over again the level of cold cruelty people are capable of. Now, is this a problem specific to the United States? I do not know, but I do know I’ve traveled widely and when a country like Iceland only has on average one murder a year but when the US has over 15,000 murders a year we have to ask what is going on here?

With these women in the collection, there too was overwhelming evidence of rape and then murder. So, a person took another person, forcibly penetrated that person to satisfy themselves and then when they were done, when that person was used up they killed the person, discarding them. This is hard to read, but this is what happens. People use people up and discard them. People deem another person not of value and discard them.

I don’t want to ask ‘What has happened to us?’ because I feel as though we have always been this way. I feel as though we have always had a level of savagery that we try to shield with this guise of civilization, but we are not really civilized, are we? We function off a system of systemic racism, largely ignore violence against women, ignore our failing school systems, encourage the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theory, have the largest prison system in the world, a failing healthcare system, and little to no protections for families, children, and the elderly. So, who is really being protected then? The wealthy? Certainly not the lower class, or the middle class whose status could crumble with a job loss.

When we have people in power who, who also participated in using people as things, then what justice is there for those of us regular people? That’s what scares me. What protection do we really have? There’s a thin veil of protection, and we should be terrified that at any moment it will blow away, because if a man can walk into a school or movie theater or church and shoot you, and that same act is repeated elsewhere, if a woman’s child can be pulled out of her arms in the street by a stranger, if a young woman can be found raped and killed in a drainage ditch, if a girl can be held as a sex slave for days, weeks, months, or years, and if a Black man or Black woman can be shot and killed - largely assumed just for the color of their skin – and all of this without punishing the people who did it what protection do we really have? Who and what is really being protected, because we are not protecting each other.

We’re all out here floating in space with really no one to take care of us but ourselves, and if you meet one of these people – one of these monsters - one day, full of the anger, or hate, with deviance electrifying them then what are we supposed to do to protect ourselves?

So overall, on a micro level – the collection shows that these women should have been safe. They should still be here. On a macro level, the same. We should be safe. We should all be safe from harm, but I don’t believe we are as safe as we think we are.

We’ve personally talked about the obsessive spiral that can happen when diving into topics as grotesque and violent as these. It brings to mind Michelle McNamara, especially in reference to her book (and show) I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. When it comes to writing, how do you separate yourself, or unplug, from topics like this? Or, perhaps, do you find that you have to go down the rabbit hole, so to say, in order to understand your subject material?

In order to understand the material I allow it to consume me, and that’s not very healthy so I don’t recommend that for everyone. I get to a point where it becomes obsessive, and I am lucky in that I have a partner who can tell when I’ve done too much. I’ve definitely given him that license to tell me that if he sees that something is verging into the area of harm then he can tell me it’s time for me to go for a walk, get something to eat, anything, just step away and take a break.


Since there were just so many cases I had to break it down and say today I’m going to focus on this many cases and that helped give myself a time limit. It was hard, because there were some cases I would research for three or four hours, go to bed and wake up and research them again. So some cases threw me off the schedule of where I wanted to be, and for just a few words of a poem, but all of that research allowed me then to include clues and details that maybe the average reader will never know, but I know it’s there and that’s important. For example, someone may think in the poem “Home Was So Close” that the line “Or within that space of Pins or Keyes” has a typo, but it’s suspected in some circles that Suzanne Gloria Lyall, whom went missing and whom the poem is written for, was the victim of serial killer Israel Keyes (whom I could go on for far too long talking about). Keyes did kill himself so we’ll never know. So, there’s a lot of that throughout the collection, a lot of detail that I really wanted to capture, even though a regular reader may not pick up on it, like a crime scene there are many details there.

Who are some of your favorite writers when it comes to mystery and true crime? Are there certain podcasts that you find yourself listening to regularly?

What’s great about true crime is that it’s a field filled with a lot of investigative journalists, and maybe they are not investigative journalists in the traditional sense, maybe they are more Truman Capote In Cold Blood, but still, these people are great at researching these cases. I really enjoyed Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas, and a lot of Douglas’ other works. Others include The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, not so much because I’m fascinated with the actual crime committed, but I’m fascinated by the hold that Manson held over his followers, and not just his followers, but his own thinking, his constant declarations that regardless if he was in prison he was free because his mind allowed to escape confinement, and Devil’s Knot because I had a very unhealthy obsession with the West Memphis Three case for a while, unhealthy because I researched this case in and out for days, weeks, and months, and just needed to stop.

For podcasts – Crime Junkie, The Vanished, Park Predators, Down the Hill, Up and Vanished, Wine and Crime, True Crime Fan Club and so many others. There’s probably way more that I’m not thinking about. As you can see my true crime obsession is probably a little much.

What books are currently sitting in your TBR pile?

You should see the towering books on my desk. I’d send you a picture, but it’s such a mess, and I’m serious, these are all of the books next to me:

  • The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock
  • Hurricane Season, Fernanda Melchor
  • Thin Places, Kay Chronister
  • Crossroads, Laurel Hightower
  • Yellow Jessamine, Caitlin Starling
  • Tender is the Flesh, Augustina Maria Bazterrica
  • A Stab in the Dark, Facundo Bernal

What’s next in store for your readers?

I have a few fiction things that are a little all over the place. The main thing I’m trying to finalize this year is setting up my old works, from like 2010 – 2014, so that they are available again. I don’t think many writers will say they don’t like their older works, and it’s not that I don’t like my older works, it’s just that I am a completely different writer today. Still, I owe my past self to make them public again. So they will all be public again, and I suppose the readers can decide what value those works have.


My most important fiction work is CHILDREN OF CHICAGO, a hybrid horror and thriller novel being released by Polis/Agora February 2021. It’s the novel I’ve dreamed about writing for a decade, and I felt like I finally had the right voice to write it. It includes everything I love, Chicago, Chicago history, folklore, fairy tales, and a bogeyman – not one that I created, but an adapted bogeyman in the Pied Piper. It’s the type of writing that I hope I can continue doing in the future.

In terms of poetry, I have another nagging idea that I think I will start writing when things quiet down a bit. It’s funny, my poetry projects have been like that, it’s quiet for a while and then I hear this shouting and this panic in my head that I have to tell this story. POEMS OF MY NIGHT was like that. There was a panic to get it down on paper, because it was really my dad’s story and our family’s story. INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH came about from just seeing this continual injustice of missing and murdered women and I had to light this fire and show people that there is a huge problem with who we are, and with humanity if we continue to ignore these crimes. This other idea I have is similar in that it’s another shouting from the void, so maybe I need to get it down, because otherwise it will not stop.

Beyond that, another novel in the Chicago series, and hopefully something else soon I promised I would do for my son. Send me fairy dust and good wishes.

What advice do you have for writers working in nonfiction and/or poetry?

When it comes to nonfiction do not feel guilty for getting lost in the research. It’s your job to get lost in the research. I uncovered so many cases that I knew very little about or nothing beforehand and with this research I was able to learn about them and write about them.

For poetry, my best advice is to read your poems out loud twice. Craft it, edit it, and read it out loud. How does it sound? Read it out loud again. Do the words have as much meaning on the page when read to yourself as they do when you read them out loud? If so, you made music and music will touch someone emotionally and that is a very powerful gift. 

Author Bio:

Cynthia “Cina” Pelayo is the author of SANTA MUERTE, THE MISSING, LOTERIA, POEMS OF MY NIGHT, INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH, and the upcoming CHILDREN OF CHICAGO by Agora/Polis Books. Pelayo is an International Latino Book Award winning author and an Elgin Award nominee. She lives in Chicago with her family.

You can find/follow her via:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cinapelayo

Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/cinapelayoauthor/?hl=en

Website: cinapelayo.com

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

HWA POETRY SHOWCASE VOL 7 TOC ANNOUNCEMENT AND COVER REVEAL

Good Afternoon, Poets and Poetry Lovers!

Today in the Madhouse, I'm thrilled to share with you the TOC and cover reveal for the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. 7. We had a ton of wonderfully dark and delicious submissions this year--over 120!-- which made the competition terribly intense, so I want to take a moment to thank all of you who submitted to the anthology; it was, and remains, a true honor to read your work. I also want to send out a special thanks to Carina Bissett and Gwendolyn Kiste for all their hard work and insight as judges--as always, it was wonderful working with you ladies!--and to Robert Payne Cabeen, who not only provided us with a beautiful poem, but who provided the cover art for the showcase this year. Bob's artwork is always absolutely stunning and I'm thrilled showcase his talents in this respect, too.

I also wanted to highlight our top three poets this year, whose work will be featured in a separate spotlight courtesy of the HWA Poetry Blog: Sarah Read, K.P. Kulski, and Sara Tantlinger.  Congratulations!

Below is the TOC (although the order will be slightly adjusted upon print):

  1. I Am the Emptiness by Chad Stroup
  2. Brotherhood by Marge Simon
  3. Call the CCC, Your Psychic Repair Team by Donna J. W. Munro
  4. The Line by Frank Coffman
  5. I Am the Corruption by Stephanie Ellis
  6. We Live Through This by Lisa Morton
  7. Arachnid by Michael Bailey
  8. Orange by Alexander P. Garza
  9. The End of the World by John Claude Smith
  10. Leisureville by G.O. Clark
  11. Monsters Bleed by Naching T. Kassa
  12. The Crows Belonged to Me by Corey Niles
  13. The Witch Who Eats Your Children by Ingrid L. Taylor
  14. The Siege by Kyla Lee Ward
  15. Smile by Jordan Shiveley
  16. The High Woman of Lowland Morgue by David E. Cowen
  17. Shatter by K. P. Kulski
  18. Retourne by Lee Murray
  19. Haunted Basin by Roni Rae Stinger
  20. Dementia by Pamela K. Kinney
  21. Leaving Home by Steve Rasnic Tem
  22. Transubstantiation by Loren Rhoads
  23. Her Heart that Flames Would Not Devour by Ashley Dioses
  24. Shades of Domesticity by Sumiko Saulson
  25. Caligari by Kelly Robinson
  26. People Trees by Joanna Parypinski
  27. Ghost Walk (Nirgal Vallis, Mars) by Ann K. Schwader
  28. Blood, Brain by Donna Lynch
  29. Red, Red, Red by Annie Neugebauer
  30. Walking Sam by Owl Goingback
  31. Are Monsters Born This Way by Jessica Stevens
  32. Fairyglass Reflections by Miriam H. Harrison
  33. When First You Wooed Me by Gerri Leen
  34. My Grandmother's Mirror by Garrett Boatman
  35. The Metallurgist's Dream by Colleen Anderson
  36. Sunset in Hungary by Kenall Krantz
  37. Dance by Robert Payne Cabeen
  38. It Feels Like Drowning...by Terrie Leigh Relf
  39. The Midnight Game by Cynthia Pelayo
  40. Mother Yolk by Sarah Read
  41. Throat Stars by Sara Tantlinger
  42. They Slumber by Teel James Gleen
  43. Crossroads Conjure by Kerri-Leigh Grady
  44. Le Fille Inconnue de la Monde by Janna Grace
  45. Haunted by Christina Sng
  46. Curtains by Michael Arnzen
  47. Distorted Lies by R.J. Joseph
  48. Summoning Spell: Persephone at the Gates of Winter by Saba Syed Razvi
  49. Riding the Exhale by Angela Yuriko Smith
  50. Lullaby for Imminently Murdered Children by Mercedes M. Yardley 


Sunday, July 12, 2020

GETTING UP FROM THIS BED OF BROKEN NAILS: AN INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN SNYDER



Good afternoon, friends and fiends--

Today in The Madhouse, I'm thrilled to help celebrate the release day for Susan Snyder's debut collection, Broken NailsSusan Snyder is a writer of horror short fiction and poetry. Her short story “Param,” which appeared in the Trigger Warning: Body Horror anthology from Madness Heart Press, is nominated for a 2020 Splatterpunk award, and her work can be seen in the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase and multiple magazines and anthologies. Susan also writes a weekly movie review blog called Sharksploitation Sunday that I encourage you all to check out as well!

Now I had the pleasure to work with Susan in one of my StokerCon workshops, and lucky for me, I also  got a sneak peek at her collection here, so I can say firsthand that it's full of violent delights and delicious occult imagery. It's definitely one that you'll want to add to your TBR piles, but in the meantime, sit back, relax, and get a taste of what went on behind-the-scenes when it came to creating Broken Nails.

With coffins and bleeding hearts,
Stephanie M. Wytovich



SMW: Congratulations on your debut collection, Broken Nails! I’m so excited for you. Can you tell us a little bit about how/when you started writing poetry?

SS: I have been writing poetry since I can remember, but it started off as song lyrics. I was a bit of a headbanger as a teenager so my affinity for angry words began back then. I stopped writing lyrics when I realized I didn’t like the structure of it. Creating free-form poems appealed to me and I felt I was able to express myself better. Also, I had zero musical ability. So my dreams of leading a metal band flew out the window. In retrospect, that is probably a good thing!

SMW: Something that I’m always fascinated with is how writers pick their titles, probably because I always find myself agonizing over it and waiting for that perfect epiphany/light-bulb moment. How did you settle on Broken Nails?

SS: Oh, I agonize about it too! I love words and phrases that have double meanings, or the meaning is not clear until you read the piece. Several of the poems in this collection use fingernails as imagery. The idea of pretty perfect lacquered nails is such a stereotype of femininity. I tend to write about women as the antagonist, the ones committing violence, whether justified or not. It’s interesting to examine women’s capacity for violence. It looks different than male violence and usually [is] much more disturbing. [Plus], what would become of our pretty pink nails when they are used to tear flesh or wield a weapon? The other side of the title is a statement on breaking the chains of misogyny and patriarchy, busting out of the box. The cover reflects that as well. I love that cover!

SMW: In your introduction, you mention that you have recently become a “card-carrying Satanist.” Can you tell us a little bit about what that means to you and how it informs your voice/style in poetry and/or the horror genre?

SS: I was raised Catholic, even though I was a very vocal non-believer. Too much hypocrisy for my taste. I have always bounced around trying to find that elusive “truth.” I studied the Vedic scriptures, Hinduism, Wicca, Buddhism. I suppose that is a basic human need, to explain our existence  and to ease our fear of death. Over time, I found myself questioning everything. At the same time, I have always found myself fascinated by the notion of Satan and his symbolism and imagery. I have never believed in Satan as a real entity, or even Hell for that matter. But the imagery! A couple years ago, I found The Satanic Temple through a friend. It just clicked. First, you must understand that modern Satanists are atheists. We don’t worship Satan or sacrifice babies or perform black mass. I suppose there are always fringe [people] who might do those things, but it is not within our definition nor is it advocated. In a nutshell, we hold the symbol of Satan as the rebel who stood up to God when God was being unjust. We stand for individual thinking, body autonomy, LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, and protection of all human rights, as long as it is not a harm to anyone else. Satanists love to point out the hypocrisy in religion and politics, and I have done that my whole life!

Now having said all that, I still love to use the imagery of Satan in my work. As a villain, a scapegoat, a savior, a puppet master, even a lover. The possibilities are endless. Satan evokes different reactions depending on the reader’s background and beliefs. Let’s face it. He is a lot of fun if you write horror.

SMW: Your collection is broken up into three sections that detail themes of: the other, pain, and various satanic archetypes. What was your favorite part of the collection to write and explore, and then to play devil’s advocate (ha!), what was the hardest part of it for you?

SS: Breaking up the poems into three sections came after I wrote them all. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to publish a collection but my publisher and friend encouraged me to because he believes in my work. I guess a lot of us writers don’t think our work is “good enough.”Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. I’ll let the readers decide. The real reason to get this collection out, for me, is to have my voice heard. The middle section, “Reflection,” was the toughest for me to put out into the world. I have been in some terrible relationships where there has been abuse and rampant gaslighting. There were years where I walked on egg shells to avoid setting my partner off. I fell into self-medicating with alcohol. Somehow, I pulled out of it, but with some pretty deep scars. I swore I would never be silenced again. Combine that with a lot of seething anger at what I went through, some directed at myself, and out popped some very direct and honest work. It is hard for me to share those, but I need to. Someone else may read it and relate and know they aren’t alone in their pain. Maybe that can provide some sense of comfort to someone.

SMW: I first got started writing poetry as a form of therapy, something to quell the pain and shut off the voices in my head. You talked a little bit about poetry in a similar fashion, and I’m wondering if you might be open to talking a little bit more about how the form works as an act of catharsis for you?

SS: I spoke before about letting my voice be heard. So that is a big part of the catharsis for me. Speak it loudly until your voice cracks! Also, I have heard, especially from the recent Me Too movement, countless stories of women being harassed, assaulted, persecuted, treated like they are less, even murdered. It ripped me apart but I felt so helpless to do anything about it. Writing horror from a feminist perspective was extremely helpful in processing my past abuse and trying to make sense of a world where being female is still somehow treated like a defect. Women hold [a] millenia of pain and suffering. I imagined what the release of that would look like, turning on our persecutors. We would tear this world apart. Writing about this gives me comfort. That sounds pretty twisted but I am a horror writer after all!

SMW: Can you tell us a little about your process for writing poetry?

SS: I’m not sure if I have a proper process. Things just materialize in my head. I do know that when I sit down to write, I give myself permission to be honest. Joe Lansdale likes to say how writers should write like everyone they know is dead. In other words, don’t worry about going too dark or gory or painful. Don’t concern yourself with what others might get their panties in a bunch about. Just write honestly. Up until a few years ago, I was not writing honestly. I cowered from really exploring the meat of it all. Actually, Stephanie, you had a big part in improving my poetry by encouraging me to engage the senses and ramp up the true horror. I had the honor of having you edit one of my poems and it opened my eyes to the fact that I was holding back. I thank you dearly for that.

SMW: You're too sweet. Thank you for your kind words and I'm so happy the edits resonated and helped you to produce these wonderful poems! I've always found horror to be catharic, a genre to help me process my demons, so I'm wondering if that's the same for you. What about the genre drives/inspires you as a poet?

SS: I also write horror fiction. I can’t write anything else but horror. My brain doesn’t work in other genres. I am such a horror junkie. There is freedom in horror where I can say or do whatever my little imagination wants. If it disturbs or scares the reader, all the better! That’s the whole point. Usually when I tell someone I write poetry, especially being a woman, their minds go to romance or fantasy. The juxtaposition of a historically revered form of writing that typically encapsulates beauty and art, and the dark seedy underbelly of horrific imagery...that makes me very happy.

SMW: What speculative poetry books have you read lately and/or are on your TBR list? Anything specific that you’re particularly looking forward to?

SS: I am a big fan of yours, Stephanie, and I haven’t read Mourning Jewelry yet. So that needs to happen! I also have been wanting to read Sara Tantlinger’s The Devil’s Dreamland  which are poems inspired by H.H. Holmes. A couple of my favorite collections are Wrath James White’s If You Died Tomorrow, I Would Eat Your Corpse and John Baltisberger’s The Configuration Discordant.

SMW: What is next in store for your readers?

SS: I will be doing a reading at Killercon this August, which of course will be online this year for obvious reasons. I am also nominated for a Splatterpunk award for my story “Param” which appeared in the anthology Trigger Warning: Body Horror last year.

I am still plugging away at poetry and short fiction. I would like to put out another poetry collection next year. For sure, I will have a fun book coming out in the summer of 2021 about sharksploitation films. I have a weekly blog on Sundays on madnessheart.press where I review bad shark movies. It is one of my biggest passions and so much fun to write. So that will be something a little different, and I am very excited about it!

Monday, July 6, 2020

WHEN THE CORPSE FLOWER BLOOMS: AN INTERVIEW WITH RONALD J. MURRAY


Good Afternoon, Friends and Fiends--

Today in The Madhouse, I'm sitting down with Ronald J. Murray to talk about his debut poetry collection, Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower, which was recently released from the JournalStone imprint, Bizarro Pulp Press. Ronald J. Murray is a fiction writer and poet living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His short fiction has appeared on The Wicked Library, and anthologies such as, Lustcraftian  Horrors coming soon from Infernal Ink Books, and Bon Appetit: Stories and Recipes for Human Consumption from Long Pig Press. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association, and when he is not writing, he can be found drinking entirely too much coffee and staying awake far too late.

For those of you looking for your next poetry read, I invite you to sit back, check out this interview, and consider picking up a copy of R.J.'s book--it's a truly fantastic debut and one you won't want to miss!



With crow feathers, 
Stephanie M. Wytovich

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

RJM: Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower and its setting are a product of introspection during depressive episodes, to be completely transparent about its creation. I consider it an accidental collection, because I was only writing through struggle with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder to cope with increasingly worsening feelings of hopelessness and a battle against a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms. It just so happened that I ended up with enough to fill a manuscript, and it just so happened that I was using a lot of the same metaphors over and over. So, I can’t really say that the idea to create this horrifying pseudo-kingdom was deliberate. The setting just fit what was happening inside of me, as a dramatized, fictional account, that made me need to write it in the first place: a lack of control over what I saw as a world once lush now drying up, where sounds once serene have gone silent, and everything is gray and dim and dying.

SMW: What was your favorite part of the collection to create and explore, and then to play devil’s advocate, what was the hardest for you?

RJM: My favorite part of this collection to create and explore was the strange world that blossomed from tumultuous times. I loved seeing what my mind produced while I was just automatically writing things to play with and refine later. The hardest was certainly writing about suicidal ideation without seeming like I was advocating for it, which I certainly was not.

SMW: Per the title of your collection, you’re dealing with representations of royalty here: The Crow King and The Corpse Flower Queen. What gave you the idea to crown both of these with an air of elitism and/or superiority? Is there something about the crow or the corpse flower on a foundational level that screams supremacy?

RJM: In its simplest form, the Crow is a false king. He wears a crown that only symbolizes false sovereignty, or a desire for real self-sovereignty that feels out of reach. He sits on a fake throne from which to spew diatribes against enemies that are, perhaps, non-existent outside of himself.
What the Crow King perceives as his enemy is the Corpse Flower Queen, who rules alongside him. Real sovereignty is represented by this character. She is in a position of balance and mental well-being, and she is able to help the Crow, and she wants to, but he sees her as the source of his misery: a putrid and rotting thing that brings him much displeasure, despite what happiness she may have brought him in the past.

In a literal sense, the Queen represents relationships marred or ruined by allowing mental health issues to go untreated. Without properly loving yourself, it’s difficult to have healthy friendships or romantic relationships.

Having said all that, I’m not sure that it’s fair to say either of them represent any kind of supremacy or real royalty. One wants to destroy everything he thinks stands in the way of a sovereignty that doesn’t actually exist, and the other is something the Crow, himself, put on a throne of opposition in his own mind.

SMW: Something that I really enjoyed with these poems is that there is a masculine and feminine energy dispersed throughout the body horror within them. Can you talk a little more about this ying/yang and how you define body horror personally?

RJM: Well, the yin/yang of masculinity and femininity was perhaps accidental. The real yin/yang comes from mental instability versus mental stability. When you have a mental health issue that’s left unaddressed, it can wreak havoc on your life. When you’re generally stable, as the Crow King knows deep inside that the Corpse Flower Queen is, you try to reach out to help. Unfortunately, that hand gets smacked away. So, I could comfortably wrap that up in a package like that.

Body horror, for me, is probably something that comes from a place of expressing poor self-image. It’s terrifying to see yourself as something rotting, or like there are things inside of you crawling around unseen that you can’t get out.

SMW: I noticed a haunting approach to the dissociation from one’s body between these pages, and it stood out to me as one of my favorite parts of the collection. As such, there are themes of memory, ghosts, and echoes of the past. Why do you/did you feel drawn to working with these topics?

RJM: I was particularly drawn to the use of ghosts and memories of the past with this collection because the Crow ultimately sees himself as having become corrupt. He is haunted by the memories of his childhood innocence, the former purity of his relationship with the Corpse Flower Queen, and the frustration that he cannot easily return to that. In his current state, he views himself as a monster. 

He’s no longer what he once was, and he doesn’t know how to transform into something similar to that creature of goodness and purity.

SMW: Rot and decay feature heavily in your book, so I’m curious as to how poetry can utilize absence or disappearance stylistically in form and structure to change and shape how we read a particular piece?

RJM: I think this would be a fun idea to play with, and something that would take a lot of thought. Something like that would have to be executed properly in order for it to have a disturbing effect on readers.

SMW: Can you tell us a little bit about your process for writing poetry?

RJM: Writing poetry is just something that happens for me in bursts. If I’m doing something at work or around the house or yard that allows me to slip into a “flow state,” reflecting on myself, my emotions, or situations that I’m going through can result in several new poems. I basically visualize myself screaming the words at my phone screen, or my computer screen, my journal, or a notebook. I just let them crawl and claw their way out of my heart. Then, I let them sit for a while until they become something unfamiliar to me so that I can edit them from a more objective position.

SMW: What speculative poetry books have you read lately and/or are on your TBR list? Anything specific that you’re particularly looking forward to?

RJM: I’ve recently read the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase, Volume VI, your collection, Hysteria (which was wonderful, by the way), Choking Back the Devil by Donna Lynch, and I recently revisited Sara Tantlinger’s Love for Slaughter.

I need to get my hands on The Apocalyptic Mannequin and Christina Sng’s collections, A Collection of Nightmares and A Collection of Dreamscapes. Those are at the top of my need-to-read list.

SMW: What is next in store for your readers?

RJM: I recently finished a chapbook of poems about the pain of failed love that are filled with twisted and horrifying imagery. Once I get those edited and sent off to a second set of eyes, I’ll start shopping around for publication. Otherwise, I recently had a short story come out on The Wicked Library’s tenth season, titled Jealousy, and I’m planning for some pieces of longer fiction, which I don’t want to say too much about at this stage of their development.

SHORT SUMMARY:

Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower is a stomach slit by knives and guts spilled on the pavement. It is the organized chaos of a man on the brink of running, a man gasping for air in those split seconds his head breaks through the surface—a man who’s realized you can’t outrun yourself—told in the narrative arc of a Crow Crowned King and a Corpse Flower Queen in their castle in the suburbs.

BLURB:

"With lush language and imagery that draws from nature's decay, Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower is a spellbinding poetry collection with a decidedly fairy tale and folk horror flare. Brutal and beautiful in equal measure, this is a breathtaking debut."
-- Gwendolyn Kiste, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens