Monday, June 1, 2020

INTO THE DREAMSCAPE: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINA SNG

Good morning friends and fiends, 

Today in the Madhouse, I'm excited to sit down and chat with poet, Christina Sng, who I've had the absolute pleasure of working with over the past few years through Raw Dog Screaming Press. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with Sng and her work, she is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A COLLECTION OF NIGHTMARES (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2017), Elgin Award runner-up of ASTROPOETRY (Alban Lake Publishing, 2017), and most recently, the author of A COLLECTION OF DREAMSCAPES (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2020). Her poetry, fiction, and art have appeared in numerous venues worldwide, and her poems have garnered multiple nominations in the Rhysling Awards, the Dwarf Stars, the Elgin Awards, as well as honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and the Best Horror of the Year.

On deck today, we'll be chatting about poetry, the intersection between feminism and myth, the power of dreams, and how her poetry style has changed over the years.  I hope you all enjoy the conversation and will consider picking up a copy of her latest book and maybe dive into some more speculative poetry this summer.
Fresh hauntings,
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?

CS: It actually came together on its own when poems I wrote filled up in each folder. They were the stories of my life, stories of people I know or had encountered, the stories of this time and era. I became its curator and it transformed into this grand myth, our story.

The collection represents our dark and complex history reflecting the good and bad of humanity. Whenever we give up on us, someone comes along and brings us hope as quickly as an evil person comes along to dash it again.

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?

CS: I loved creating new fairy tales to complete a section, fleshing out new versions of a well-loved story.

The hardest part was Myths and Dreamscapes and perhaps, The Love Song of Allegra which formed the crucial beginning and end of the overarching story.

SMW: Per the title of your collection, you’re dealing with dreamscapes, these nods to fantastical, sometimes nightmarish worlds. Because your collection is split up into parts, which was your favorite world to create in? And do you have a favorite poem in that section?


CS: I love them all, to be honest, each one a part of me. Here are my favourite worlds and why I love them, accompanied by my favourite stanzas.

Allegra, because her story represents everything we hope for that is good in this world.

“An innocence,
Once treasured,
Now regained,
Even if it was for
But a moment.”
~”The War of the Fall”

Fairy Tales, when we realize sometimes there is more evil than good and how we endure it is through resilience and acceptance.

“From that day forth, my dreams are sweet,
Covered in blood and sleet.
And oh, do I welcome it.”
~”Never Happy After”

All the Monsters in the World because as we grow older, we realize the world is not what it seems and sometimes we live life through blinkers.

“Do not take
A moment to rest,
For all you have done
Will flood you with emotion.”
~”Reflections”

“When you let your guard down
And forget just for a moment—
They always move faster than you.
So I have joined the darkness.
I have joined the shadows.
No one can touch me in the dark.”
~”When there are Monsters”

The Capacity of Violence because there is so much strength in us to fight back yet society has conditioned us to back down and be docile.

“You’ve always told me
That I warm up your heart.
I throw it in the fire,
Now, that’s a start.”
~”Mortal Life”

“They will arrive
With their guns and scythes,
Here we will wait
And eat them alive.”
~”Forest Mother”

“Wrongs made right for once
In this unjust world.
I close my eyes,
And enjoy the bloodbath.”
~”Upgrade”

“And with my bare hands,
I tore you apart.
Yes, adrenaline works like that.
You must have forgotten.”
~”A Capacity for Violence”

And Myths and Dreamscapes, because everything comes full circle: lies and exposure, hurt and healing, birth and death, and interspersed in between all that is love.

“In the sky, she could be
Whatever she wanted to be,
Mold the clouds into birds
And birds into clouds
Till soon, she would’ve made
A whole world of her own.”
~”Like Birds in the Shimmering Sky”

“And everything dies
But I, standing on the wasteland
Listening to the rocks cry.”
~”The Wasteland”

“Slowly we fade to star dust,
Drifting back into the skies,
Into the mysterious universe
Where we belong.”
~”Moonlight in the Playground”

SMW: There are tons of references to mythology, fairy tales, and enchantments throughout your collection. Do you have a favorite fairy tale or myth that you find yourself coming back to time and time again? If so, what about it appeals to you?

CS: Little Red. She’s young. She’s got her whole life ahead of her. And if she’s so tough as a child, imagine how powerful she will be when she grows up. Her potential is incredible.
Cinderella’s story intrigues me. Here is a girl who grew up abused and used. How does she keep on a happy face? How does she endure? The variations on her story explore this.

I love Medusa too and she has been a part of my last 2 books. I will be writing more about her in my following collections.

SMW: As someone who has personally had a rough time with sleep, insomnia, and night terrors throughout her life, I’m fascinated by the themes of unconscious exploration in your work. As such, I’m curious: how would you describe your connection or relationship to the night and/or the dream world?
CS: I feel safe and myself at night. I’ve been a night owl for as long as I can remember. Recent events have made me realize my mind can lock up so tightly that it was only after an EMDR session did I start dreaming again after years of dreamless sleep. This disconnect. It was for survival.

Yet even now, I have trouble sleeping and staying asleep. My mind is always ticking like a clock. I try to tire it out and make it go into sleep mode but sometimes that doesn’t last long. I wish I could sleep as well as I did in my 20s but those days are gone. I’ll be happy if I wake up feeling fresh and not woolly-headed.

SMW: This collection is made up of poems that you’ve written throughout various parts of your life. What challenges did you encounter—if any—during the revision process, especially with poems that you might have written years ago?

CS: As we grow as writers, our preferences and styles change. I’ve had to modify the structure of some of my older poems just to edit them because my brain can’t focus on long lines that flow from one to another anymore.

So if you look at almost all of my poems, they’re in short stanzas with short lines, easy to read for my current brain. It’s given me the chance to update them and revise them, and thanks to your wonderful advice on them, I’ve been able to make them better.

SMW: When it comes to poetry, you’ve been wildly published, and a lot of attention—and rightfully so—has been put on your skill set for writing haiku. Can you talk a little bit about how you got started writing haiku and maybe give some tips to fellow readers and writers of the form?

CS: I was at this point in my life where my poetry swung from long 2-3 page poems to being unable to write anything at all due to things that were happening in my life.

Somehow I came across Scifaikuest, which is edited by Teri Santitoro and I began to write 3-line scifaiku and horrorku. She guided me over a year through my submissions and finally, I got it.

From there, I moved to traditional haiku which focuses on mindfulness and healing. That got me through the next few years, writing almost daily. It was incredibly therapeutic.

The principles remain: A haiku emphasizes brevity. It requires a juxtaposition between the lines and a seasonal element. So when editing, we remove the extraneous words. The shorter, the better.

For me, haiku is like a butterfly you hold in your hand. You never own it or know it completely, and anytime it can just flutter away and you wonder how stayed on you for the time that it did.

SMW: What is next in store for your readers?
CS: I’ve almost finished my science fiction collection, which I’ve been compiling for the past 2 decades. However, I plan to take my time editing it so it may be another 3 years before it is done.

There is also a comprehensive collection of my haiku that has been sitting here waiting for a final review.

As for horror, I’ve begun collating a new themed poetry collection that will likely take a couple of years to complete.

I’d like to also finish a short story collection and a novel in my lifetime. They’re in the works but will take some time to finish. Perhaps when the children are grown. :D

-----

Praise for  A COLLECTION OF DREAMSCAPES, which is a book that takes us on a journey through dark mythologies and fairy tales, into the world of monsters, and a leap into the boundless depths of the human heart.

"A Collection of Dreamscapes is exactly what I have come to expect from Christina: full of heart, personal, and powerful while opening up her view of the world to include a variety of different lenses and angles of approach."—Anton Cancre, Author and Reviewer

"Three words that describe this book: immersive, creepy, accessible. If you like the short stories of Carmen Maria Machado, you also need to try Sng."—Becky Spratford, Readers' Advisor

"This book reads like a dream, dark and fantastic. Danger in a sort of soft packaging. Multiple subtle brushes of the knife, no less deadly than the full on stab."—@WellReadBeard, Reviewer

"The words on these pages are beautiful beyond measure, but they will also haunt you long after your close the cover."—Amanda Turner @readlingoctopus714, Reviewer

"Christina Sng has done it again with beautifully haunting poetry that will immerse you in a waking dream."—Jackie Cowgill, Reviewer

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Planets, Poetry, and the Solitary Wanderer: A Guest Post by Albert Wendland


Good morning, friends and stargazers--

Today in the Madhouse, I'm honored to host Dr. Albert Wendland, who I had the pleasure of studying with at Seton Hill University both for my undergraduate and graduate degree. When I was first starting out in college, Dr. Wendland's classes truly helped shape me as a writer, and taking some of his literature classes--whether they were centered around British Lit or theoretical approaches to the sublime--helped teach me about art and philosophy in a way that I had never been exposed to. 

Later on during my graduate work, I studied science fiction with him for a little bit, and in addition to turning me on to classic works like Frank Herbert's Dune, he's also responsible for assigning me my first ever graphic novel (Planetary), which opened up a whole new world to me, and I'm happy to say that I'm an avid comic book/graphic novel reader now, largely due to him.

As such, t's a true pleasure for me to have him here on my blog today where we're discussing his upcoming poetry collection, Temporary Planets for Transitory Days. If you'd like to read the formal announcement of this book deal, you can click here, and as always, you can follow Raw Dog Screaming Press for more updates and announcements surrounding its production. 

Until then, sit back, relax, and get lost in the stars.

Best,
Stephanie M. Wytovich 


Planets, Poetry, and the Solitary Wanderer
By Albert Wendland

The protagonist of my two science-fiction novels, The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes and In a Suspect Universe, is an interstellar explorer/adventurer living in a galaxy where travel between the stars has become common. He’s a solitary person, and one of the challenges I had writing about him is that he is so private he seldom reveals himself.

How do you talk about your character when he doesn’t want to talk much to others, or to you?

(Or, as the fictional editor of my current book laments, “Mykol Ranglen, who are you?”)

Yet Mykol Ranglen has deep feelings, and deeper longings. His relationships with people are intense though often fragmentary—as if he runs away before “letting anyone in” (at least that’s what one of his ex-lovers said about him). Unsure and overly careful, often paranoid, he escapes from people to other planets, where he can explore and be on his own and experience different forms of life and behavior. After staying for a while on his home world of Annulus (a large circular habitat in space), he either leaves for a private retreat inside an asteroid, or travels outward into unknown spaces, eager for the new, the peculiar, the sublime.

He really is a “man who loves alien landscapes.”

But he’s also a writer.  And besides his essays and travelogues he often writes poetry. He has a reputation as a recognized poet, but his shared writings are never revealing of his private life. Yet, however, he does keep one ragged notebook of private jottings that he keeps to himself (it was introduced, and at times quoted, in the second novel, In a Suspect Universe). And, while I was writing that novel, I cherished the idea of also writing and publishing that notebook—a collection of his private poems, the ones he doesn’t share, the ones in which he reveals (if in devious and not always forthright ways) his feelings, his experiences, his reactions, his thoughts, and especially his longings.

This notion captivated me when I thought of it. I gathered all the poems I ever wrote and I then edited, elaborated, and doctored them for Ranglen’s exclusive voice. Then I wrote a whole host of original works, more than half the book, on subjects I imagined Ranglen pondering and that I often toyed with myself but normally would not have composed (like a long celebration of spaceports—one of my favorites). Then more poems and titles came—“Litanies of Worlds,” “The Universe In a Frame,” “The Secrets of Earth,” “A World Called Little Redemption,” “Crashing Suns,” “Conversation in a Darkened Spaceship.” I was on a roll!

Some poems would be frank personal revelations:

            Now you are lost,
Found and gone,
To return in only
The small dreams of night . . .

Others would hint of planetary, galactic, or near-mythic pasts:

In the old Dreamtime,
When the world was unformed,
The Sky Heroes walked
The fluid first lands . . .

Some would give clues to Ranglen’s more secret and ongoing tales: 

Though other stories end,
Your “Deep Story” thrives,
A suspended revelation
Told in Galaxy Time . . .

Others would elaborate specific incidents from his past, about the people and places that haunt him:

Last night I dreamt of the Spiral Palms,
And the joy and wonder of that lost time
Welled up inside me like an ocean at night . . .

Some would describe the wonders he’s seen during his many travels in space:

. . . chalcedony or lapis worlds,
Jupiters like agates, jaspers like Mars,
The snowflake obsidian of Pluto’s surface . . .

And all of them would show his dreams and his hopes, his many fears, and especially the ache of his persistent yearning,

The secret of identity
That to our window night brings:
Our longing is blind,
But our longing has wings.

So, I hope you can sense the pleasure I felt in writing this collection, and the fine sense of accomplishment it brings. It helped me to respect the secrecy of my main character, and yet, at the same time, it allowed me to get into his soul—to let him have his say, and yet to do it through his own poetic and personal means, to hear him describe what he apparently lives for most:
            
            Sites passed,
            Travelers’ ways,
            Temporary planets for transitory days.

(The book can be pre-ordered here, and all early orders get a special gift insert linking a poem with an incident in one of the earlier novels.)

Bio: Albert Wendland has made a career out of his life-long interests in science fiction—and photography, art, film, and travel. He teaches popular fiction, literature, and writing at Seton Hill University, where he has been director of its MFA in Writing Popular Fiction (the program famous for its exclusive attention to genre writing). His SF novel, The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, was a starred pick-of-the-week by Publisher’s Weekly, and the prequel, In a Suspect Universe, was published in 2018, describing a story from the protagonist’s past. He’s also written and published a book-length study of science fiction, a chapter in Many Genres, One Craft, a poem in Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books, and several articles on SF and writing. He enjoys landscape photography, astronomy, graphic novels, and the “sublime.”

Monday, May 18, 2020

WRITING FROM MY BUBBLE: A Guest Post from Lee Murray


Hello friends and fiends, 

Today in the Madhouse, I'm sitting down and chatting with one of the most lovely people I've met to date: Lee Murray. Lee is a fellow horror writer and RDSP author, and every time I've had the pleasure to be in her company, I find myself forever smiling and simply being in a state of awe because of her talent, strength, and warmth. As such, I wanted to reach out to her today--from Pittsburgh, PA to New Zealand--to see how she was doing and to chat about how her writing habits and her relationship to art has changed due to the state of the world. 

As always, Lee met my request with light, love, honesty, and grace, and I hope you find her essay as touching as I did. 

Be safe, take care, and we'll speak more soon.
Stephanie M. Wytovich


Writing From My Bubble
by Lee Murray

In Aotearoa-New Zealand, we called them bubbles: closed households of two or three people with whom you would protect the vulnerable and see out the apocalypse. Because my husband had just returned from a business trip to the US, three Murrays went into lock-down on 17 March, getting our supermarket stock-up done before the rest of the country followed suit a little over a week later.

in lockdown
a fantail flits
outside

civilians
fired upon at the border
toilet paper wars

In those first weeks, social isolation felt like business as usual, since my husband and I both work from home anyway. We didn’t need to rush-order new desks, rearrange workspace in a spare room, or commandeer a corner of the kitchen table. No need to order in another reem of paper. Our home internet is 900MBits/sec. We were all set. We simply switched our pre-breakfast gym workouts for longer walks around the neighbourhood with the dog, jumping up on banks or onto dewy grass verges to keep a suitable social distance from any others out walking. Most neighbourhoods have a local bush trail within handy reach, and in a town like Tauranga, there are never too many people on the trails. In the lockdown, the streets and tracks were almost deserted. Birds chattered. Lawn mowers hummed.
a creek
meandering
through autumn

We certainly weren’t minimising the threat of the pandemic—New Zealand’s numbers were on the upswing with 256 cases recorded on the day the lockdown went into place. The economic fall-out would be brutal, but the lives of New Zealand’s vulnerable were at stake. There was comfort in knowing that our precious family members were safe in their respective bubbles. Our government had a plan. Go early and go hard. We hunkered down and got on with the task of flattening the curve, checking in daily for live updates from Jacinda and Dr Ashley, who provided Kiwis with their daily report card. Strangely, in those early days, my anxious-Piglet self was almost upbeat. We could do this. We simply had to stay the course.
rising story arc
I’m wondering
how it ends
But it’s like Steinbeck said, isn’t it?

“It is not good to want a thing too much. It sometimes drives the luck away. You must want it just enough, and you must be very tactful with Gods or the gods.” ― John Steinbeck, The Pearl

I wanted too much. Perhaps my hubris had angered Whiro-te-tipua, the lord of darkness, because on May 29, New Zealand recorded its first death. We had known it would come, and yet inside our bubbles, we were stunned.
a city
plague-kissed
—and quiet

Days passed and more people died. TV became both torture and distraction. Two billion others watched on, everyone, everywhere consuming stories. Our vocabulary expanded to include words like co-morbidity, immune compromised, and hydroxychloroquine. Acronyms like R95, ICU, and PPE. We studied graphs, Ro ratios, and percentages. We mastered Zoom, Teams, and Facetime.

under siege
the battle raging
my dog snores

Too numb to write fiction, I resolved to be productive in other ways; my speaking events and conventions had been cancelled, so I took on new mentees, read books, wrote blurbs, signed up for a course, and produced some webinars. Still, I couldn’t write. Nothing solid. Nothing that worked. Nothing that would stick. There was only the weekly social media poetry-date with my friend in Wisconsin, where, for the past year, we have shared our observations and reflections as haiku/senryu. These tiny poems of less than seventeen syllables have become the backbone of my pandemic record.
camelias
social distancing

On 4 April, my mother got a call from the rest home, and for the next week I was immune to the pandemic.
my father
dying
the world stills

New Zealand’s compassionate policy during Level 4 lockdown was for one family member visitor per dying non-Covid patient. In strict quarantine. In full PPE. For a week, my mother, my sister, and I did turn about. My brothers, living in other towns, were not so lucky. I read Dad the poems he’d read to me when I was little. The Wreck of the Hesperus. Jabberwock. Even giggled over some Pam Ayres. I read him a couple of poems of my own, including the one about our midnight trips to catch eel at Pukehina creek. He died gently, in his own time. I joked that he could at least tell me where he’d buried the family treasure before he went. Nothing doing. Dad raised his eyebrows in a classic Kiwi East Coast wave.

When I wasn’t with him, I wrote daily updates for the family, doing my best to smooth the edges of words like night and death.
eggshells, hearts, and other fragilities

letterbox
tiny wings struggle
in a web

Nor was I with Dad when he died on 9 April. On 10 April, I woke up early. Or perhaps I’d barely slept. I pulled the curtains open and watched a milky sunrise.

dawn
grey upon grey
a heron in flight

But I was lucky because Mum joined my family bubble. I got to hug her, at least. For two days, we sat in the sun, drank tea, and took phone calls from friends and family. We told stories of Dad. There was nothing for us to plan; Level 4 health regulations meant all bodies had to be cremated. There were no funerals. No flowers. No family groups. No exceptions. Cart me off in a cardboard box, Dad always said.
in the rushes
a reed bends
unseen

The pandemic raged on. While Mum knitted me a jersey, I went back to work, a short commute when you’re a full-time writer working from home. Over the next few weeks, I replied to mentees, judged an award, edited a national children’s anthology, rescheduled some local writing meet-ups, and critiqued some work for colleagues. I read another book. I won an award which would have made Dad proud; we celebrated with a cup of tea. In the evenings, we turned off the news and watched the Endeavour series from start to finish. I cuddled the dog, my son, my darling, my mum. Still the only writing was the poems. A few words scribbled on scraps of paper. Like breathing in tiny shallow breaths. Stabs of acute pain, while I wait for the panic attack to pass. I imagine those same feelings are playing out in ICUs everywhere.

On April 28, New Zealand loosened its lockdown restrictions, moving into Alert Level 3 in a cautious contactless reopening; Mum went home to sleep in her own bed and, I suspect, to start her grieving.

We’re not special, and I’m not complaining. Yes, it’s hard to lose a parent in a global pandemic. Yes, it’s hard to be far from the people you desperately need to hug in times like these. But it was the right thing to do. Here in New Zealand, our numbers have been promising—just 2 new cases in the past week, with 96% of all cases recovered. Things could have been so much worse; they might still be.

a shoulder
draped with privilege
her back freezes

On 13 May, New Zealand moved to Alert Level 2, which allows for up to ten people to meet with distancing and contact tracing records. Our precious bubbles are popping, and it scares me. But I saw my brother and his family yesterday. We had a family lunch. Sushi. Pasta. It felt almost normal. Today, my daughter and her partner flew home.

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to write again. For now, it seems the world is changing too fast. Anxious-Piglet-sorts don’t cope well with change. I’ll try again tomorrow.

the pestilence followed us
into space
rampaging
rampant
in ragged, haggard lungs
We ejected the dead,
sent them gentle into the night.
Imagined the starry fireworks
glimpsed on far-off porches.
We saw only darkness.
Bereft, we drifted on.

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of science fiction, fantasy, and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows) and a three-time Bram Stoker Award® nominee. Her works include the Taine McKenna military thrillers (Severed Press), and supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra, co-written with Dan Rabarts (Raw Dog Screaming Press), as well as several books for children. She is proud to have edited thirteen speculative works, including award-winning titles Baby Teeth: Bite Sized Tales of Terror and At the Edge (with Dan Rabarts), Te Kōrero Ahi Kā (with Grace Bridges and Aaron Compton) and Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror (Adrenaline Press). She is the co-founder of Young New Zealand Writers, an organisation providing development and publishing opportunities for New Zealand school students, co-founder of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2019. In February 2020, Lee was made an Honorary Literary Fellow in the New Zealand Society of Authors Waitangi Day Honours. Lee lives over the hill from Hobbiton in New Zealand’s sunny Bay of Plenty where she dreams up stories from her office overlooking a cow paddock. Read more at www.leemurray.info   

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

So, You’re Trapped at Home with Your Demons: A Guest Post by Donna Lynch


Good morning, friends and fiends:

I don't know about you all, but the state of the world has me in a serious funk lately. Time has last all meaning, my writing is disjointed and all over the place, I think I've gone through all of Netflix, and when I'm not having nightmares, I'm dealing with some pretty serious bouts of insomnia again. However, in a time when we're all probably spending way too much time in our heads, I think now it's more important than ever to open a dialogue up and talk about mental health. As such, I invited one of my all-time favorite writers to stop by the Madhouse today, to chat about how writing can help soothe and heal in a time of turmoil.

Donna Lynch is a dark fiction writer, poet, and the co-founder—along with her husband, artist and musician Steven Archer—of the dark electro-rock band Ego Likeness (Metropolis Records). Her written works include Isabel Burning, Driving Through the Desert, Ladies & Other Vicious CreaturesDaughters of LilithIn My Mouth, Witches, and Choking Back the Devil.

Now Donna and I first met at a Raw Dog Screaming Press event around seven(ish) years ago, and while we have countless things in common, one of the things I love best about her is how beautifully honest and authentic she is. Right off the bat, I knew that she was someone I could laugh with, joke around with, cry with, all while having really serious conversations about life and how fucked up it can get. Over the years, we've written poetry alongside each other, and on some occasions even together, and she is someone who constantly inspires me and whose voice and poetry I often turn to when I need a dose of comfort in the dark. 

With that said, I invited her here today to talk a little bit about confronting our demons, something that she did masterfully in her Bram Stoker award-nominated collection, Choking Back the Devil--which I highly recommend reading if you haven't picked up a copy yet. 

Until next time!

Stay safe and be well, 
Stephanie M. Wytovich 

So, You’re Trapped at Home with Your Demons

Well, here we are. The event that many of us—the scientists and doctors, the horror lovers, the anxious, the nihilists, the Tank Girl and Mad Max fans—have always known was coming: PANDEMIC.

Most everyone has lost something at this point. Some losses, temporary or negligible, others irreparable and permanent. It’s neither wise nor helpful to compete in the Pain Olympics, but it’s important to remember how deep the chasms of loss can be. Let’s try to be honest with ourselves about how far we’ve fallen, and how much further down we could go.

While we wait to see what the virus and the future holds, we can hardly ignore the darkness with our walls. Our demons are always there, but now that they know we’re captive, they’re hungrier than ever. We used to have a cat that would catch mice, then put them in the bathtub, tormenting them before the kill. He knew they couldn’t get out.

It’s like that some days.

I recognize that not everyone is lying around on fainting couches, succumbing to ennui, while typhus rages in sewage-slicked streets. People are busy—many busier than before—but no amount of work can keep us from going to dark places, whether we’re alone, or not alone enough. We’re afraid of getting sick. We’re afraid of suffering and dying. We’re afraid for our loved ones. We’re worried about money, about resources, about our homes and businesses, our debts, our social lives and relationships. We are worried about everything, and there comes a point where our brains say: Enough! I’m going to go over here now and remember this shitty thing that happened years ago while we’re trying to fall asleep! Enjoy! And in the end, you really can’t win. The demons are inside and out.

So, what can we do?
I’ll share with you my daily isolation-plague-time regiment:
  • Wake up for the 19th time
  • Feed the cat
  • Take meds
  • Open my laptop
  • Watch Netflix until I can’t handle the open laptop’s judgmental glare anymore
  • Write a few lines
  • Light incense
  • Wash the dishes
  • Trauma memory/ dissociative episode
  • awww baby chipmunk right outside the window!
  • Write a few more lines
  • Get stuck on social media because someone is wrong on the internet          
  • BAD MOOD
  • Think about that time in 6th grade I lied about having a boyfriend and got called out and everyone laughed at me
  • Light more incense but this time chanting the names of lesser demons because, hey, the more the merrier
  • Tequila
  • Video chats with dumb filters
  • Bed, sort of


You can use mine as a template, but your mileage may vary.

Here’s the important part of the plan, though: Write down your demons. You don’t have to be good at it. Just write them out, write their names, describe their faces, what they’ve done—literally or shrouded in metaphor. There’s no way to be wrong, because it’s your story, it’s your language.

There are tons of other ways to cope with your demons in this unprecedented time of fear. Writing is just one, and it’s the one that works the best for me. You have to face them and if not now, when? The punchline is that they’re still going to be there when you go back into the world someday. They’ve been there the whole time.

The truth is, most of us don’t ever say goodbye to them. We just learn to coexist. Love the film or hate it, TheBabadook was one of the best modern metaphors for trauma and the reality of living with it. Chain that fucker up in the cellar and feed it just enough to keep it contented. Strive for attainable goals with those bastards, because they don’t like to leave. Face them, name them, and write it down, draw it, sing it, play it, weave it, plant it, sweat it, scream it out at the moon—it doesn’t matter how or what, just as long as you don’t run and hide. Don’t cower under your blankets or pretend that you’re fine when you know you’re not. Don’t be fine. Don’t be afraid of not being fine. Say you’re afraid when you’re afraid. We don’t have any control of what’s happening outside, but inside, it’s your party. You make the theme and write the guest list.

I can’t say that writing will heal you, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. And while being heard is helpful, what’s even better is being able to express your pain. I get to tell my story, whether it’s to all of you, or if it’s just to myself and a private audience of monsters. You get to tell your stories, too. And while you’re trapped inside with your demons, remember they’re trapped in there with you. So make them listen.

Friday, April 24, 2020

AT THE EDGE OF ALL WORLDS WITH MATT BETTS


Hello there, friends and fiends, 
Today in the Madhouse, we're cheering on one of our dearest friends and colleagues, Matt Betts, as he celebrates the release of Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds, his first book in the Edgar Rice Burroughs universe. For more information on the book, and to read a short excerpt, see below!
[And congrats again, Matt. This is so wonderful!]
Synopsis/Info:
The groundbreaking Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe launches with Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds—the first in a series of all-new canonical novels expanding Edgar Rice Burroughs worlds of wonder and adventure! For the first time ever, softcover and hardcover editions, as well as a limited Collector’s Edition with a signed bookplate, will be available in a simultaneous release.
When a mysterious enemy attacks his adopted nation of Korva, Earthman Carson Napier discovers his own arrival on Venus years ago may have unknowingly triggered the strike. The invaders’ trail of death and destruction leads Carson and his beloved princess Duare headlong into battle against a seemingly invincible, primordial race. But that is not Carson’s only challenge, for an uncanny phenomenon has entangled him with two strange individuals from beyond spacetime. Will Carson be able to solve the mysteries of his past and the enigmatic visitors before the entire planet descends into chaos?
Excerpt:

Fire and ash blackened his armored bands, but he advanced without the appearance of concern. The black smoke rippled off him as he stepped from the fiery mess. Each step of his large feet seemed to hasten the floor cracks that still moved in our direction.

“Stop!” I shouted. “This is a grand fight we have going on here, but if you advance any farther, you’ll shatter this floor and hurl us both to our deaths.” He continued forward as if he hadn’t heard me, one heavy step after another. I looked to the broad strip of white rock that encircled the room, hoping it would be sturdier than the glasslike material that composed the floor.

At that moment, the whole building seemed to shake. There came a tremendous cracking sound, and the section of the flooring upon which I stood lurched down several feet with a sickening screech. I flung myself to one side and grabbed a thick section of the clear floor, holding on with one hand as I watched the great chunk of glass upon which I had just been standing twist and turn on the way to the ground far below.

Fingers bleeding, I clutched the sharp edges in order to keep myself from following the broken section down. The sounds of combat around me fell away until I heard nothing but my own breathing, ragged and desperate, fearing the slightest breeze would cause my fragile handhold to break free.

Copyright © Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All rights reserved. All logos, characters, names, and the distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks or registered trademarks of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Used by permission.


BIO:

Matt Betts is the author of such science fiction novels as the critically recognized adventure Odd Men Out and its sequel Red Gear Nine, the urban fantasy Indelible Ink, and the giant monster vs. giant robot tale The Shadow beneath the Waves. He is also an accomplished speculative poet, and lives in Ohio with his wife and children.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

THROUGH THE GATE WITH DEBORAH L. DAVITT

Hello and Good Morning, Everyone!

I recently had the absolute pleasure of reading Deborah L. Davitt's collection, The Gates of Never, and once I finished it, I knew I had to chat with her some more about the book. For those of you who might be unfamiliar it,  The Gates of Never is a speculative collection that fuses history, mythology, and magic with futurism, science, and science fiction. Personally, I felt like I learned so much about mythology as I was reading these poems, and even with the stories that I was already familiar with, seeing how Davitt interpreted these myths or these creatures was really fun and it kept me turning the page fairly quickly as I anticipated what was next.

But don't just take my word for it! Here's what others are saying about it:

“With The Gates of Never Deborah Davitt offers us a sumptuous exploration of the cosmic and the mythic, the historic and the familiar. Her lines hum with memory and imagination, forging a distinctive landscape of voice and omen, whether it’s taking on sea wolves or ancient empires, the mysteries of the human heart or a single leaf. This is a finely-tuned collection for those who dare to dream deeply in a vast cosmos.”–Bryan Thao Worra, NEA Fellow in Literature.

Rich in humanity and mythologyDeborah Davitt‘s stunning poetry collection THE GATES OF NEVER overflows with eloquence and dark beauty.–Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A COLLECTION OF NIGHTMARES

In The Gates of NeverDeborah L. Davitt plumbs the everyday and the eldritch, ancient past and technological future, the dance of bone and skin, of seed and flower, of eros and thanatos: bodies cleaving — flesh joining and also splitting, stone and metal changing and reshaping — to form old and new lives and entities, based in magic and myth as well as rocket fuel and neon, a startlingly familiar amalgam of the sacred and the profane. Davitt’s exquisite poems will set your imagination on emerald fire.–Vince Gotera, Editor, Star*Line and the North American Review

So now that we've certainly got your attention, take my hand and follow me through the gate as we learn more about this fabulous collection and the brilliant author behind it.

With iron spikes and mermaid tears,

Stephanie M. Wytovich


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

DLD: Hi, Stephanie! Thanks for giving me the chance to talk about my collection! The Gates of Never is a collection of my poems that were published or written in the first two years of my poetry-writing adventure, so they span from about 2015-2017 in my poetical output. (Words that just five years ago, I would never have dreamed that I would write.)
I wanted to put them together in some form more substantive than being scattered between some twenty different venues, online and off, and so I started looking at how to shape them into a collection.

Having read a few modern poetry collections, I think that where most of them fall apart for me in in two places—either having only one note or tone, where I believe in variation and contrast as important artistic devices—or having jarring shifts that don’t contribute to an overall sense of narrative or direction. So it was important to me that the collection as a whole have subsections—each “gate” represents a thematic grouping. And that the collection should feel dynamic—that it should move. And since I write in different eras and on topics from history to fairy tales to science fiction, that sense of dynamism comes from moving from the past into the future.

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?

DLD: Since I wrote the poems all at different points in time, and only brought them together as a whole later, hmm. I enjoyed creating each of the poems individually. Form or free verse doesn’t matter—form for me is a copilot, and while I might not wind up where I thought I would, with form holding part of the wheel with me, I sometimes wind up someplace more interesting than my original goal. Free verse lets me hold absolute control of meaning, and I play freely in both.

But since these poems weren’t directly intended to be read side by side in their original conception, the hardest part was the ‘scrapbooking’ process—finding which could sit beside each other. Could comment on each other. Could echo or deny each other. Could create a sense of narrative whole with each other. That was harder, but in its own way, I found it very rewarding. It makes you take several steps back to really judge your own work and go, “Hmm. Is that one as strong as I thought it was? Does that work beside that one?”

SMW: What drew you to the historical and mythological references in the book and do you have a favorite? And to piggyback on that, how did you go about researching for it when you were first getting started?

DLD: I adore mythology. Sometimes I wrote about things I already knew quite a bit about—the Russalka, the banshee, or some of the Greek myths that I directly compare/contrast to the moons of the solar system (Ganymede in “A Mask of Ice” is a captive of an abusive gas giant, both the boy stolen by Zeus and the moon covered in ice; Enceladus in the eponymous “Enceladus,” is a captive of Saturn, but she’s about to birth dragons. . . or become just another shattered, ephemeral ring.)

But other poems came about when I was reading about other cultures. I was reading about Maori facial tattoos and what they’d originally meant in their culture, and the real and very respectful traditions of preserving heads, which reminded me of things I’d read about teraphim in very early Israelite traditions.

Now, in most of the places you’ll see them referred to as household gods, little idols, but I’d also read Tim Powers’ Three Days to Never which posits them as the preserved heads of dead sons. You can wiki the origins of the concept (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teraphim which might be specious scholarship, but who knows.) The two concepts latched together in my head as respectful ways of treating the dead out of two disparate traditions isolated from each other by time and geography, and that landed for me, in how we treat our own dead, and how we cling to them and their memory.

SMW: Gates are a staple in your collection. What do they represent to you?

DLD:Gates are places of passage, places of transition. You can pass through a gate in either direction, but once you’re through, you’re in another place, another time. And yet, for me, time is all of one piece, and the past is always with us. Even as we stand in the future, the ghosts of every generation before us dance in our DNA. We deny it at our own peril.

SMW: Something that I see a lot as an editor is either a heavy reliance on free verse, or a strict adherence to technical form. As someone who writes in both, what do you think the advantages are to challenging oneself to try out different type of poetry?

DLD: Well, as I said earlier, free verse allows me direct control over my meaning. So when I start writing a free-verse poem, I have a set goal for this poem, and I know more or less what I want to say, but sometimes, as I’m writing, it’ll change under my fingers anyway. I’ll find a repetition, a phrase, an image that I want to use to create structure, and poof, there’s a poem.

Form is, as I also said earlier, frequently my copilot. Sometimes the demands of say, a sestina, with those immovable words in their rigid order at the end of each line, forces the story I’m telling in those lines to go a little different than I expected, and that’s fine, because . . . as Pratchett told us, the fifth element is Surprise, and I would be a worse writer if I didn’t sometimes surprise myself. Surprise is delight. Surprise is letting your hind brain and the form do some of the work, and either being pleased with the shape of what you’ve wrought by the end or feeling the need to do a little gentle tinkering.
Now, I’ve worked with a fair number of people in a little poetry workshop/contest thing I’ve run for the past three years to know that this doesn’t work for everyone. I think it’s the difference between “pantsers” and plotters in prose. Some people have to do a rough draft of what they want the poem to say and then nail it down in every particular, or they don’t feel like they’ve done it right. And if that’s their process, more power to them!

But it’s not my process at all! Sometimes, by letting go and not overcontrolling the process, I find I get some of my best results.

And sometimes, I’ll write a poem in form, frown, and then rewrite it in free verse, stare at both versions for a day or so, and then kick one screaming out into an editorial slushheap. I can’t tell you which one is “better.” I can only tell you which one I like more. It’s up to an editor to tell me if they like that one or not. Hah!

SMW: Something that I’m always drawn to as a reader is the hybridity of poetry, especially in regard to genre. This book weaves between history and fantasy and science fiction, so I was wondering what advice you had for writers who are looking to dabble in hybrid poetry, whether in relation to genre or form?

DLD: Erg. The hard part isn’t writing it. It’s selling it. I have had relatively little luck with literary journals but . . . heck, most literary journals don’t pay. Most genre magazines do. The trick is becoming self-aware enough of what genetics each of your poems has, so that you can fling them at the markets more likely to enjoy them.

And some of that comes from getting to know the markets. Trying the editors out with . . . two, three, five, seventeen batches of poems (most poetry markets accept submission packets of 3-5 poems each time, so don’t just send one, unless that’s what the guidelines say. Always send poems in  packs. 

They’re social animals. They get lonely in their cage in the queue. And even if an editor doesn’t like poems 1-4, poem #5 might catch their eye. So why not send them all together, instead of waiting 90 days between submissions of one. . . poem. . .at. . . a. . . time?

Once you’ve gotten a couple of personals, you’ll start to get a feel for what a given editor likes or dislikes. And then you can tailor your submission packets a little more towards that perception of their tastes. Though they’ll perennially surprise you. I’ve sold poems that I thought were the weakest in their packet, while the editor never even mentioned the one I thought was the best.

We are our own worst judges.

Then you grab the four that came back as rejected, slap another friend in with them, and submit them elsewhere. Ideally, the same day, hah.

So the advice for hybrid poetry is . . . really the same advice for writing or submitting anything else. Write what you know, in your own voice. Submit, submit, submit, evaluate where you’re at, where a market’s head is at, polish, write more, submit, submit, submit.

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?

DLD: I am a huge fan of John W. Sexton’s Inverted Night. Each poem feels, mentally, like bubblewrap under the fingers. There’s a near-tensile strength to the diction, the inversions, in every poem, that makes me want to pop them and let the meaning ooze out over my fingers. I’m a fan.
T.D. Walker’s “Small Waiting Objects” is also excellent; I find reading her poems is a tonic for the stressful times we live in.

Both poets reveal something about me, lol. I was a technical writer for twenty years. One of my paramount obsessions in writing and language is clarity. Even when Sexton’s inverting things and challenging the reader’s preconceptions, there’s a precision and clarity to his language that I really enjoy.

SMW: What is next in store for your readers?

DLD: I have another collection, this one all written as one contiguous narrative flow of poems, out making the publishing rounds. If I don’t get traction on this one in the next year, I might lean towards self-publishing it. I love it, and really want to get it in people’s hands.

I also have literally dozens of short stories out there, either published or waiting to be published, and several novels that, should the world ever let me sit down and write for more than a half hour at a time again, I need to get back to. You can find all of my many things at www.edda-earth.com/bibliography.

BIO:

Deborah L. Davitt graduated first in her class from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1997, and took her BA in English Literature with a strong focus on medieval and Renaissance literature. In 1999, she received an MA in English from Penn State.

Since then, she has taught composition, rhetoric, and technical writing, and created technical documentation on topics ranging from nuclear submarines to NASA’s return to flight to computer hardware and software.


Her poetry has garnered her Pushcart, Dwarf Star, and Rhysling nominations and has appeared in over fifty journals; her short fiction has appeared in Compelling Science Fiction, Galaxy’s Edge, and  Flame Tree anthologies.

In 2019, her first full-length poetry collection, The Gates of Never, was published by Finishing Line Press.

She currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son.