Wednesday, July 22, 2020


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 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


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 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


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.


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.


"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

Monday, June 29, 2020

Why do we write speculative fiction with homophobia? A Guest Post by Eric Crumrine

Good afternoon, friends and fiends:

Today in The Madhouse Pride Showcase, I'm absolutely thrilled to host one of my brilliant MFA students and to introduce all of you wonderful folks to him. Let's welcome Eric Crumrine!

From writing classroom plays in elementary school, to writing campaign stories for friends playing Dungeons and Dragons, Eric has always kept writing within arm’s reach. Eric writes queer speculative fiction, and he brings forward voices that traditional speculative fiction has historically left to the wayside. He will continue to push the genre forward for representation of LGBTQ characters, who are not just relegated away as side characters to the plot’s main protagonist. He wants to give future generations the heroes he never saw.

Eric currently lives in Boston, MA. He has a B. A. in English from Bowling Green State University and is currently completing his M. F. A. in Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, with a certificate in professional writing.

His post below opens up an important dialogue that I think we all need to have about gender, sexuality, and identity when it comes to speculative fiction, and I hope that you'll resonate with it, think on it, and learn beside and from Eric about how to create inclusive diverse characters in your speculative fiction without any strings attached.
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Why Do We Write Speculative Fiction With Homophobia?

by Eric Crumrine

Ryan La Sala’s Reverie asked an important question: “What if you could be in a world that loved you back? What would you be willing to do for that?”

For those unfamiliar, Reverie is La Sala’s debut novel about Kane Montgomery discovering reveries, or daydreams come to life, that he and his friends must work through in order to maintain reality. Kane’s counterpoint (not antagonist) is a drag queen named Posey, who wants to use the power of the reveries to reshape the world into something that will accept them for who they are.

To me, this is one of the most important metaphors that I can think of for authors writing in speculative fiction. We can create vast worlds, systems of magic, and alternate histories asking those questions of “what if?” Yet, somehow, we often instead maintain these human aspects of our current cultures that are so pervasive and negative (homophobia, sexism, racism, etc.) When it isn’t critical to the story itself, I have to ask the question, why did an author choose to include this?

To take a video game example, Disco Elysium is an RPG film noir mixed with Cthulhu inspired adventure, where you’re a detective trying to unravel a murder mystery, all while trying to maintain your sanity. In this weird adventure, for no clear reason, a non-playable character flings vile homophobic language at your character. As I was playing the game – which I typically do for escape, much like reading - this completely removed me from the game. You drop a six-letter “f” word, and suddenly I’m back in the real world. I went back in and kept playing, but there was something lost in that moment.

While this is not always as overt in speculative books I’ve read, there are nearly always moments of homophobia (indirectly or directly) when queer characters are present. This could be characters scoffing at characters for their sexuality, bullying them because of their identity, or having to watch a character struggle to live their authentic self.

In these worlds, as a queer reader, my mind begins to fall out of the story. I now wonder why this culture, society, race, etc. engages in homophobic behavior. Is it religion? Is it rooted in toxic masculinity? How pervasive is it throughout the world? How does this add to the story that I’m currently reading?

In my own writing, I don’t include homophobia if it is not necessary to the story itself, and even there, I approach it in ways that hopefully will keep my queer readers engaged. For example, I have two projects I’m working on that illustrate when including homophobia might be necessary and when it isn’t. The first is a “slightly in the future” story with queer superheroes, where homophobia is an unavoidable side effect of America in its current form. The second, however, is a high fantasy story about the end of the world, where all my beautiful queer, gender non-conforming, and trans characters are free to live in a world that embraces that as part of the norm.

You can write an interesting and compelling story without having to run your queer characters through a gauntlet of hatred just because you want them to come out the other side stronger. Strength comes in many forms. Strength does not have to solely be based on survival.

I want to quickly highlight two authors that have accomplished world creation without homophobia for the sake of homophobia.

First, V. E. Schwab did this in her Darker Shades of Magic series with Prince Rhy. The prince is bisexual, and at no point in the trilogy does he apologize or feel compelled to hide this fact from those around him. He’s had a torrid love affair with the captain of a pirate ship (like you do), and while people are not a fan of the pirate, it is never because he is male identifying.

Second, Tamsyn Muir gives us the world of Gideon the Ninth. The brief summary of this book is lesbian necromancers in space, which was more than enough to sell me on it. There is a lot to talk about with this book, but for purposes of this blog, I’m going to highlight Gideon. There are a lot of reasons people in the book do not like Gideon or take issue with the things she does. However, the one piece that is never a point of contention is her sexuality.

This all brings me back to the question from Ryan La Sala that I shared at the beginning of the post. Queer readers want to lose themselves in a world that loves them back. As authors in speculative fiction, why wouldn’t you want to create that for your audiences?

What does this look like? If you find yourself making an LGBTQ+ character experiencing a challenge related to their identity, it can be something as simple as asking yourself the purpose of the moment. Do you need it? Is there a better way to achieve the same outcome?

How can you normalize queer worlds for your characters and your readers? When you’ve got wars raging, worlds ending, and evils gaining powers that need to be stopped, why are your characters still worried about who is sleeping with you and/or what pronouns certain characters use?

Create a world that creates a sense of belonging in your reader, and we’ll keep coming back for more.    

Monday, June 22, 2020

Carmen Maria Machado, The Wonder of Her Tragedies: A Guest Post by Cynthia Pelayo

Hello Friends and Fiends--

Today in The Madhouse, we're continuing along in our Pride Showcase by highlighting the work of Carmen Maria Machado. I first read Machado's work back in 2014 in Granta when I stumbled across her short story "The Husband Stitch." Not only has it stayed with me for these last six years, but it also turned me into an avid reader of her work. Turns out, my friend and colleague Cynthia Pelayo felt similar, and when I reached out to her to see if she felt like sharing her thoughts with us, she graciously agreed. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Cynthia or her work, Cynthia (Cina) Pelayo is the author of LOTERIA, SANTA MUERTE, THE MISSING, POEMS OF MY NIGHT, and the upcoming CHILDREN OF CHICAGO by Polis/Agora. Her work is beautiful, haunting, and it tackles themes of mystery and solace in an authentic and illustrious way, and I can think of no one better than her to take us into the world of Carmen Maria Machado and her genre-defying work.

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Carmen Maria Machado, The Wonder of Her Tragedies
by Cynthia Pelayo

Carmen Maria Machado’s biography speaks for itself. She is a brilliant essayist and fiction writer. She is the bestselling author of memoir In the Dream House and her short story collection Her Body and Other Parties was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her writing has appeared in Granta, Tin House, The Paris Review, The New Yorker and more. She is a Guggenheim fellow, winner of the Shirley Jackson Award, Bard Fiction Prize, Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction, winner of a Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and more, so much more.

Machado has been described as a “genre annihilator” destroying the ideas we may have around the definitions of how a horror, science fiction or literary story should be shaped and structured. She plays with form in her writing, switching from vignettes, to catalogues to lists. Her stories also sometimes hold a thread of delight, glowing in the disastrous, and the disastrous things are typically being experienced by women in her stories.

However, what is extraordinary about Machado’s works is that she paints them so that many of us can see ourselves in them. From her “Inventory,” a catalogue of a woman’s past sexual experiences through to a present-day virus that spreads across the continent to “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order: SVU,” a brilliant collection of vignettes following detectives who are tortured by the ghosts of murdered girls, failed cases, and guilt.

Machado writes widely about the identities of queer women and their bodies. While I identify as a heterosexual woman, I found myself greatly relating to her writings that touched upon the disregard of women’s desires and violence. She writes of the feminine experience, of sexual explorations, and sexual trauma, and of our bodies, how our bodies have violence inflicted upon them. I must also add that I rarely, if ever, read stories with sexual content. Perhaps it’s because I can find myself falling into one of Machado’s stories as a character, the somewhat prudish and traditional housewife.  Therefore, I admit that my readings of sexuality and sexual encounters is limited. However, when I do read about sex in a Machado story I do not feel uncomfortable. The sex is very often tied to the character’s development and is crucial in her stories.

I was drawn to Machado’s fiction works by way of her literary criticisms, essays and articles. She has said her early influences included Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ray Bradbury, Helen Oyeyemi, Angela Carter and more. She was raised on magical realism and fairy tales, the same literary diet I have heavily consumed. Machado’s writing is political, and it’s important to note that because in her nonfiction, and her fiction, she challenges tropes that are harmful and hurtful to all of us.

Machado has criticized the destruction of women in media, from how women are portrayed in novels to how they are cut up and sliced on television and in movies. We love to see the destruction of the female form, sliced, stitched back up together and annihilated once again. And what Machado does is not only deconstruct the ideas around the ownership of a woman’s body but challenges us to think of what our bodies are capable of, like in her short story “Mothers,” about two women who have a baby together naturally.

For me, I fell into “The Husband Stitch” and could just not climb out. It’s a story about a traditional courtship between a woman and a man. While she is happy, or we believe she is, and the husband gives her everything she wants there is still one recurring question he asks – why does she wear a green ribbon around her neck? It’s that constant questioning in a story, thick in folklore, myth, fairy tales, and urban legends of things that somehow may be true, that highlight how a woman’s body is never truly hers. Because even though she has satisfied her husband’s desires, served the home, given him a child, and a traditional life - he is still compelled to have ownership of her entire being, and not just her body but her secrets. There is no boundary or space that she can occupy as her own. He consumes her in her entirety even if that means she will fall apart. Her protestations fall flat on him, and so she relinquishes, because that is what she has always done, even to her own detriment.

Machado spins the wheel of dread beautifully, and when the horrific happens, I am struck with a magical wonder and a sadness that I don’t quite feel many other writers can accomplish effectively. Her writing comes from a place of immense skill, beauty and pain.

Much of her writing also plays with the structure and form of the fairy tale, particularly this element of flatness in fairy tales. Many of her characters are not given emotions, and they are not in a psychological conflict. However, by creating a story with this structure of flatness and eliminating psychological conflict, that allows the reader to somehow add their own depth into the tale that Machado is weaving. Maybe that’s why so many of us can see ourselves in a Machado story.

Or maybe, the violence that she writes of is so widespread that many of us can connect with the tragedies she speaks of.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Finding Your Door: The Importance of Queer Representation in the Wayward Children Series

Good Afternoon, Friends--

Today in the Madhouse, I'm thrilled to welcome one of my favorite ladies, Cassie Daley, to help continue our Pride Showcase and celebrate the works of LGBTQ+ writers in the Speculative Fiction genre. Cassie is a wonderfully talented artist, writer, and photographer, and honestly, I'm not sure if there's anything that she can't do, but what I will say is that she consistently brings color and laughter and happiness into my life, and I feel honored to have her here today talking about one of our favorite book series: The Wayward Children by Seanan McGuire.

Like Cassie, I've always been a fan of portal world stories, and I spent a lot of my childhood running around the woods, digging holes in my backyard, and looking under my bed in an attempt to find a door to somewhere magical and haunting where I could go be my delightfully weird and morbid self without judgement. Stories like Neil Gaiman's Coraline were fast favorites for me, and I even have a tiny door in the corner of my office now to remind me that there's always that possibility of something more waiting behind the veil.  

So grab your afternoon tea and pick some dandelions because it's time to sit back, relax, and enter a world of color, whimsy, and magic.

Yours between worlds, 
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Finding Your Door: The Importance of Queer Representation in the Wayward Children Series
By Cassie Daley

Portal worlds have been a large staple of storytelling, especially in the fantasy genre, for longer than I’ve been alive - and for good reason! The adventure and possibilities that portal worlds bring to literature are unparalleled, often offering an escape for those of us who found more solace in our made-up story worlds than in real life. You’d think with the inclusion of aliens and mystical creatures and sometimes talking animals as characters, a cast diverse in more realistic ways wouldn’t be too much to ask for, right? Unfortunately, despite the seemingly endless available options for representation that these worlds and fantasy in general provides, our list of heroes in these stories is woefully monochromatic. More often than not, the protagonists--who we as readers are meant to look up to--are straight, white characters from privileged backgrounds who a majority of us have never been able to truly relate to.

But then Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series hit the shelves, and instead of giving us cardboard characters throughout a truly wide cast, we’re introduced to so much representation in so few pages that it’s hard to question why this isn’t the norm.

For those unfamiliar with the books, McGuire’s Wayward Children series focuses on not just one of those portal worlds mentioned above, but rather unlimited numbers of them. These worlds are accessible only to children via special doorways that can take the form of anything from a specific mirror under direct moonlight, to a twisty old tree in the forest. The doors give only one instruction to those passing within them: Be sure.

In the series, some children are just born into the wrong worlds. Whether they are better suited to the quiet Halls of the Dead, or the mermaid-infested depths of The Trenches, or to hundreds of other possible worldscapes, occasionally, some children are able to find doorways that help get them to where they’re truly meant to be.

Unfortunately, sometimes certain things happened that cause these “lost” children to be found again and brought back to the place of their origin - or, as we know it, the real world. Understandably, this doesn’t bode very well for the children. The ones who struggle with coming back the most are sent to Miss Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, where they’re given the one thing they haven’t been given by their families: the hope that someday they will be able to return to their true homes.

Some of the main themes in the series are individuality and the understanding that sometimes the roles we’re born into or that are expected from us, aren’t the roles we're going to thrive in. The children in Eleanor’s home all found other worlds where they grew as people, and sometimes even lived full lives – even if just a matter of months had passed here. Where these kids struggled under societal pressures and obligations in the real world, they were able to find freedom and truth in their portal lands, which allowed them to be their truest, most authentic selves.

Honestly, Seanan McGuire had a bestseller right off the bat with this premise. The ability to write about these different worlds and characters and make each of them so distinct and individual is a feat all its own, but then you get down to the nitty gritty of the actual themes and the representation, and that adds another layer of depth that just isn’t found in many books today, therefore putting it leagues above most other stories in the genre.

In the first book alone, our main protagonist is an asexual girl who struggles with her return from the dark, still Halls of the Dead, and her roommate is a tree climbing, colorful, energetic bisexual Japanese girl from a magical sugar land that exists in a state of constant, whimsical, nonsensical flux. Other characters include a trans boy who discovers himself during his time in his portal world, a fat girl who isn’t ostracized for her weight, and the list of great characters just keeps growing. Right away, we have characters who represent the people we know and interact with - and maybe even the people we ARE! - on a regular basis, but who we just don’t get to read much of in our literature. And how incredible is the normalization that, sometimes, we’re just born into the wrong place, situation, or even body? Especially as a series suitable for children, which is the age range when a lot of us first started to discover things about ourselves in respect to gender and sexuality - this is revolutionary!

McGuire herself writes: “Part of my goal with the Wayward Children series is providing representation for people who rarely get to see themselves in this sort of story. And yes, you can have queer rep in a series where characters start out between ages nine and thirteen. I knew I liked girls when I was eight. If this somehow made me “adult content” at eight, no one told me so. If Disney fairy tales are age-appropriate despite the forced heterosexuality, then a story about an eleven-year-old girl who has crushes on other girls isn’t overly or overtly sexual. It’s just a fact of life for many of us.” --via Twitter (Link for post:

Now while we don’t have doorways to portal worlds in the real world (that I know of! Prove me wrong, Goblin Market, curfew be damned!), we do have books, which in my opinion are probably the closest things. We have the ability to be transported from the situations and lives we were born into, and sometimes we’re able to live out grand adventures, and even deep heartaches, between the pages the same way that these Wayward Children can and do.

Furthermore as a woman who has been waiting her whole life for the pan rep in horror, sci-fi, and fantasy books that doesn’t quite exist yet - I am so appreciative of Seanan McGuire’s writing in this series, and of the stories being told. I urge more people to read this series, and to consider the importance of having an accurate reflection of our colorful society in the stories you choose.

And if you’re a writer, I implore you to normalize a wider variety of characterization in your own stories. Perhaps one day, one of your readers can find a Door of their very own within the pages of your books.


Cassie is an avid bookworm & overcaffeinated rainbow enthusiast. She creates artwork sold in her Etsy shop focused on color, horror, and pop culture. She writes about and reviews horror fiction on her blog, Let's Get Galactic, as well as for the Night Worms Blog.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Urban Legends and Cannibal Kings: A Guest Interview with Hailey Piper

Hello and Good Afternoon, Friends and Fiends!

This week in the Madhouse kicks off Pride! To celebrate all the wonderful work by queer writers in the Speculative Fiction genre, I'm going to be showcasing books, interviews, and guest posts by some of my favorite writers, and hopefully at the end of the month, we'll all have some more material to add to our TBR lists. 

Today, however, is all about Hailey Piper, and I'm so excited to be showcasing her work here. For those of you who might not be familiar with Piper and her work, Hailey is the author of Benny Rose, the Cannibal King, An Invitation to Darkness, and The Possession of Natalie Glasgow. She’s a member of the HWA, and her short fiction appears in Daily Science Fiction, The Arcanist, Flash Fiction Online, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror. When she isn’t writing queer characters into her horror stories, you might find her haunting the apartment she shares with her wife and making spooky noises.

And speaking of spooky noises, do you folks hear happy cannibal noises? 

Is it just me?

Well, just to be safe: close your door and read this with your back against the wall. We're about to enter the Blackwood Mythos, and trust me, this story has some serious TEETH.

With hunger, 
Stephanie M. Wytovich

SMW: Hi Hailey! I’m so excited to have you (and Benny Rose!) here in the Madhouse today. Can you tell us a little bit about your book and what it means to you (literally or metaphorically)?

HP: Hi Stephanie! I’m excited to be here. Well, Benny Rose, the Cannibal King is my most recent novella, published as part of Unnerving’s Rewind or Die series which calls back to a VHS video store horror section experience. It’s a coming of age horror story (my favorite horror subgenre) about a group of teenage girls trying to survive Halloween night when their local folkloric boogeyman, Benny Rose, turns out to be a real supernatural cannibal. Though it takes place in the ’80s, it’s also very much about right now and the time we live in, where adulation to the past threatens to eat the future, where there are those all too happy to sacrifice their children to live a little more comfortably.

SMW: Now I’m a sucker for a good, spooky urban legend, and your book plays to the tune of a great one. As such, I’m curious: what’s your favorite urban legend, and how did it inspire your writing?

HP: This is going to sound silly, and maybe it’s because I’m from New York, but alligators in the sewers. I knew from a young age that there was no such thing, but the idea still thrilled me, as if there could be a whole world waiting under our feet full of terrifying creatures. I always envisioned them as pale, although now I’m not sure reptiles depend on sunlight for color, and enormous despite the poor nutrition available in the sewers. But those details that make it nonsense in real life fit me in fiction. You can always stretch credulity. And then stretch it a little more, and a little more, until the reader is immersed in something completely fantastical.

SMW: What was your favorite section to write in the book, and then to play devil’s advocate, which part did you struggle with or have the hardest time finishing?

HP: Without giving too much away, my favorite scene was probably the “Desi’s Girl” chapter, where Desiree takes a stand. This Halloween night began with bad intentions, and facing the prospect of death, all the little resentments lobbed at her are boiling under the skin. People suspect she’s gay or assume it. A teacher chastises, her mother berates, Adrian mocks, and even her friend Jesse makes a comment with a wink without Desiree having said who she is. Before we have the word, we know we’re different, and once we learn the word, we often bury it. And now something’s coming to kill her, not because she’s gay, but because she’s young, and yet it’s still because of who she is.

Singing her altered “Jessie’s Girl,” fighting back—that’s all Desiree making a violent statement, and I loved writing it.

I think the biggest struggle was conceptual, but that’s kind of cheating my way out of this question. The toughest part to write is when Desiree learns the truth behind the legend. She is highly imaginative and there is a lot of backstory to communicate without much dialogue at that point. I had to paint the picture just right.

SMW: Benny Rose is such a great villain and I love that he’s HUNGRY! How did you go about creating this monstrous boogeyman?

HP: This was part of the conceptual struggle. I knew about the Glade Street neighborhood and the characters of Desiree, Gabrielle, Sierra, and Jesse, but the monster had many forms and it took a while to pin him down. Eventually that evolved into the Blackwood mythos as well, with Benny becoming an ever-changing story told between the town kids. He became ALL of their stories.

In the end though, Blackwood Mercy Hospital was always the backstory, and Benny grew into the character same as the character sprang from that tragedy. There’s a special resentment that blooms in some small towns. Benny wears that on his face, not a mindless zombie, never speaking, yet always sneering or smirking, even at one point toying with one of the girls just to upset the others, pretending they can get away.

SMW: There is a strong theme of community in this story both on the macro and micro level. Where do you think the horror lives and breathes in large groups of people, because let’s face it—some of the most horrifying stories deal with this concept of mob mentality and crowds (and what they can do) i.e. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” David Pinner’s The Wicker Man, Jordan Peele’s Get Out

HP: I think the horror begins on a cellular level. Cells together form an organism, and then organisms might form a herd, pack, or community. We lose cells constantly while the organism persists, same as members of a community. When horror stays cellular, we get body horror. When it becomes societal, we get folk horror. The actions of an individual cell aren’t generally scrutinized when grouped with other cells, and so when mob mentality strikes, we stop being cells and become wholly an organism. That some cells feel safe to do harm inside that anonymity is terrifying. Scarier still is that they can go on pretending to be neighbors afterward. We see people every day, but how many are anonymous cells just waiting for their next chance to lose themselves in a larger organism?

SMW: So I have this not-so-quiet obsession with good cannibal stories, and Hannibal Lecter has long since been one of my favorite villains. What are some of your favorite books and movies that deal with cannibalism, and why did you feel drawn to work with that topic specifically?

HP: I definitely gravitate toward the TV show Hannibal, though Mads Mikkelsen’s sophisticated, charming Lector is about as far removed from Benny Rose as any character could get. The draw for me is the eating. My wife has made fun of me for making hunger a primary motivation in some characters, but it’s so inherent and primal. Everything must eat, but not everything is eaten. To be eaten is to be unmade, broken apart, and become the cells of something else. Part of the sickness of Benny Rose is, being a supernatural creature, there is no purpose to his consumption. He’s a story on repeat, and his eating is wasteful, same as his hunger.

SMW: Something that I really loved about this book were the nods to Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby and Lois Duncan’s I Know What You Did Last Summer—two of my favorites! Without giving too much away, what about these books (or movies) spoke to you and how did you incorporate their influence into your story?

HP: Oh dear, without giving too much away? Well, certainly the movie adaptation of I Know What You Did Last Summer was striking for me. I was in middle school, I think, and for me and the kids around me, this was our first encounter with the hook-handed urban legend. That certainly shaped how I thought of the kids coming up with their Benny stories in the book. As for Rosemary’s Baby, there’s a playful side eye from Benny Rose, the Cannibal King toward satanic panic and witchcraft, but no one really knows the forces they’re playing with as much as they think.

SMW: June is Pride month (woo!), so I want to know who your favorite LGBTQIA+ horror writers and books are. Give us all the recommendations, lady!

HP: Caitlin R. Kiernan has written such incredible fiction. I know they argue against being categorized as a horror writer, and that’s fair—they write a broad spectrum of speculative fiction—but their work often grows from grim earth. Joanna Koch does incredible literary work with their horror, as does the incredible Laura Mauro. Jessica McHugh’s weird horror is one of a kind. I’m going to mix together books by queer authors and not, because some of these are of significance regardless of who wrote them: The Very Best of Caitlin Kiernan and The Dinosaur Tourist by Caitlin R. Kiernan, Rabbits in the Garden by Jessica McHugh, Sing Your Sadness Deep by Laura Mauro, The Couvade, by Joanna Koch, the Monstress series by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, To Be Devoured by Sara Tantlinger, F4 by Larissa Glasser, and The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling.

This list should be longer; I’m under-read in this, and many LGBTQIA+ writers I know of seem to gravitate hard toward strict sci-fi, fantasy, and romance. I don’t blame them, we need that kind of escapism.

But for me and many people I know, horror is healing, and that’s where we find solace.

SMW: What is next in store for your readers?

HP: Short fiction seems to be the way of the near future. I have a story “Toad Man, Toad Man” coming in Monsters, Movies & Mayhem! cinematic horror anthology, “Unkindly Girls” in Worst Laid Plans: An Anthology of Vacation Horror, the first anthology from Grindhouse Press, “Autotomy” will be produced on the all-LGBTQIA+ horror podcast Monsters Out of the Closet, and then there are like ten more.
I have a larger project coming in 2021, but I don’t know if that will have been announced by the time this interview goes up, so I don’t think I can elaborate here, just in case!

SMW: What advice do you have for writers working in fiction?

HP: Read. If you don’t make time to read, it’s going to hurt your writing. The more you read, the stronger you’ll write. Grab prose, poetry (like Stephanie Wytovich’s), comics. Read recent stuff, not just classics, and definitely stretch outside your genre now and then; technique and atmosphere tend to cross-pollination. That’s how new things grow.

Author Bio:

Hailey Piper is the author of Benny Rose, the Cannibal King, An Invitation to Darkness, and The Possession of Natalie Glasgow. She’s a member of the HWA, and her short fiction appears in Daily Science Fiction, The Arcanist, Flash Fiction Online, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror. When she isn’t writing queer characters into her horror stories, you might find her haunting the apartment she shares with her wife and making spooky noises.

Praise for Benny Rose, the Cannibal King:

"Hailey Piper is a major new voice in the horror genre, and Benny Rose, the Cannibal King is the perfect place to start with her work. A short and magnificent shock to the system, this one has got everything: great characters, fantastic vintage horror vibes, and a terrifying urban legend at the center of it all. Keep an eye on Hailey's work; she is seriously going places."
--Gwendolyn Kiste, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens

"A good urban legend has a way of seeping into your bones and refusing to crawl out; Hailey Piper's Cannibal King is certainly one of those that will be creeping into my mind, late at night and unbidden, for a long time to come. Benny Rose is an unforgettable terror, rivaled only by the gutsy teens who dare to go up against him."
--Claire Holland, author of I Am Not Your Final Girl

"I see your slumber party massacre and raise you a taste of human tragedy, a funhouse ride of plot twists, and a heaping side of gore. Hailey Piper has the audacity to write teenage mean girls as thinking, feeling, bad-ass human beings."
--Joanna Koch, author of The Couvade

"Sometimes when we tell ourselves stories, we unwittingly awaken and summon the very monster we thought only lived in our minds.... Witness a brilliant cast of characters take a chomping bite out of a local folk story that proves itself all too real. With haunted hearts and burning teeth, Piper's sharp prose delivers a whirlwind tale; here, we peel back the layers of our strong, female leads and root for them to conquer the night."
--Sara Tantlinger, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Devil's Dreamland