Wednesday, August 7, 2019


 Hello and Good Morning, Everyone:

Today in the Madhouse, I have the pleasure of hosting one of my very best and dearest friends, Michelle Renee Lane. Michelle's book, Invisible Chains, debuted last month and has already found a strong following and readership across genres, and once you dig into the book, it's not hard to understand why. This novel is a powerhouse.

A bit about the bookJacqueline is a young Creole slave in antebellum New Orleans.  An unusual stranger who has haunted her dreams since childhood comes to stay as a guest in her master’s house. Soon after his arrival, members of the household die mysteriously, and Jacqueline is suspected of murder.  Despite her fear of the stranger, Jacqueline befriends him, and he helps her escape. While running from the slave catchers, they meet conjurers, a loup-garou, and a traveling circus of supernatural freaks.  She relies on ancestral magic to guide her and finds strength to conquer her fears on her journey.

Now I was lucky enough to be an advanced reader for this book, both in its early stages at Seton Hill and prior to its publication date this year, and let me tell you that seeing this book hit the shelves was a truly beautiful thing. You see, Invisible Chains is so much more than a book that will just scare you...even though yes, it will 100% scare you. But this book will also make you think, think about life, think about death, think about the relationships we build, how we treat one another (and why). It's both timely and necessary, and I hope you'll pick up a copy and read it soon.

In the meantime however, below is an interview about the book. Here we talk magic, history, blood, and monsters, so I encourage you all to sit down with a glass of AB + and meditate on what vampires have come to represent in contemporary society, and how horror is both a reflection on past and current states of the world. 

With blood blisters and bite marks,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

SMW: First and foremost, congratulations on your debut novel! It seems like it was just yesterday we were hanging out at SHU in the WPF program, so being able to hold this book in my hands is a wonderful feeling. To start us off, tell us a bit about your novel. What does it represent at its most literal and figurative heights to you?

MRL: Thank you, Stephanie. I can remember one of the first critique sessions I had in the MFA program for this novel. You sat almost directly across the room from me. I was a little intimidated, because it was the first time anyone had read an early draft of the novel and we didn’t really know each other at that point. As soon as I heard your feedback on the scene I had submitted, a scene that got cut from the final draft, I hoped we’d have lots more to talk about. And, shortly after that, we hung out in New Orleans together, talked about the horrors of being single, the pros and cons of falling in love with vampires (werewolves, and demons), and we’ve been friends ever since.

What does this novel represent to me? That’s a great a question. I think it took me a long time to really figure that out, because each time I sat down to write a scene I realized that although I was writing about the nineteenth century, the injustices and violence my protagonist experiences at the hands of slave owners and the vampire, are really a reflection of some of the issues women of color are facing in the twenty-first century. So, while women of color aren’t experiencing physical slavery (yet) by the accepted definition, our minds are often preoccupied with the additional tasks of being on guard to recognize minefields of racism and sexism in the smallest gestures and microaggressions. These extra tasks keep us busy throughout the day and often prevent us from accomplishing all the goals we set for ourselves – educations, higher paying jobs, the freedom to rest and enjoy the fruits of our labor. So, I suppose this book literally represents a goal I fought hard to accomplish. It is a product of my creative mind that allowed me to explore some of the more difficult aspects of my own life and the lives of other women of color – past, present, and future.

SMW: What was your favorite scene to work on in the book, and then to play devil’s advocate, which one gave you the hardest time and/or was the most difficult emotionally to spend time with?

MRL: Some of my favorite scenes to write were the scenes in which the vampire is not only seducing the protagonist, but when he realizes that he’s being seduced in return. I love villains, and vampires are some of my favorite monsters, so constructing dialog and interactions between Carlos and Jacqueline provided me with challenges I looked forward to tackling. The more his true face is revealed, the stronger she becomes. Since I loved writing about their relationship, as unhealthy as it is, the scene I struggled with the most was when Jacqueline must confront the vampire and make a choice between her life and his. Full disclosure, it took me roughly three months to write that scene, and a poem written by my writing mentor, Lucy A. Snyder convincing me to kill the vampire.

SMW: Our friendship started at SHU, but blossomed in New Orleans, and I know that city means a lot to both of us for similar and different reasons. As it’s one of the primary settings in your book, can you tell us a little bit about your connection with the Crescent City?

MRL: You know, although New Orleans isn’t my hometown, I think of it as my adopted home. It has always treated me right and made me feel welcome. The first time I visited the city, I was nineteen. I met a woman at a college keg party, and after talking to her for over two hours about what we were reading, our favorite books, and what was on our TBR piles, we realized that a lot of the books we had been discussing were set in New Orleans, including Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume.  So, we talked about going there together. Like most conversations you have while drunk at a party, I didn’t take it very seriously, but the following week she asked me when I wanted to go. We drove down to Louisiana a few weeks later at the beginning of Christmas break. I can still remember the way the air clung to my skin as we pulled into the city. So, books, films and music tempted me to New Orleans for as long as I can remember, but a flamboyant feminist hippie named Heather convinced me to follow my dreams and visit the city.

I’m also fascinated by the history of the gens de couleur libres, and the history of race relations in New Orleans. It was (and often still is) very complicated during and after slavery, but very different than other parts of the United States. Obviously, racism was still an issue, but the class structure in New Orleans allowed for mixed-race people to occupy professions and privileged statuses that simply were not available to other people of color in the United States. Depending on how wealthy a landowner was, the children conceived under the institution of plaçage, a recognized extralegal system in French and Spanish slave colonies that permitted European men to enter into civil unions with women of African, Native American and mixed-race descent, would sometimes be sent to France to be educated. These unions allowed the women, or placées, and their children to own property and in some cases provided freedom if they were enslaved.

And, New Orleans has some of the darkest history in the United States – pirates, voodoo, ghosts, and vampires – making it a beautifully haunted city waiting to share its secrets with you.

SMW: Jacqueline is such a fantastically strong, intelligent, and emotionally versatile character, and when we’ve talked about vampires over the past couple of years, our discussion usually moves toward the topic of how women in supernatural stories are drawn to the monster, even though they know that eventually, their love is a death wish (or bite, in this case). How did you navigate the path of violence against women in this book, and what commentary do you think you left readers with in regard to falling in love/lust with monsters?

MRL: I love a good vampire romance. The bloodier and more erotic, the better. Let’s not kid ourselves, vampires are sexy. And, in modern vampire romances, they have become the ideal partners even though they are still extremely territorial and controlling when it comes to the bodies and minds of their sexual partners. The threat of violence and the promise of death are ever present, especially during sex.

Initially, I fully intended to write a novel in that vein (pun intended), and I wanted Jacqueline to become a vampire. This novel began its life as a short story and when I first wrote it, I believed that for her to gain freedom and claim the power she deserved, she needed Carlos to rescue her and make her like him. At the time I wrote the short story, more than fifteen years ago, I was completely conscious of the connection between slavery and vampirism, which is why I think I began writing it. I was younger. A different person. Some of the challenges that were ahead of me weren’t even on my radar. I honestly believe that Jacqueline developed as a stronger character because of the challenges I overcame in my own life. My personal circumstances and complicated romantic relationships made me realize that first and foremost, no one was coming to rescue me, but secondly, I realized I didn’t need to be rescued.

Monsters can be very attractive, especially if you don’t view yourself as being “enough” for mainstream culture. If you look different, think differently, and have the audacity to share your opinions as a woman of color on subjects reserved for discussions between white males only (horror films, classic literature, comic books, Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, or anything else cool, interesting and nerdy basically), people may recognize your contributions, or they will politely (or not so politely) tell you to shut up.
Monsters occupy very interesting spaces within the margins of texts. At least, they did for a very long time. Monsters represented the racialized other, rampant female sexuality, something to fear, a cautionary tale about succumbing to your darker desires. And now, they take boring teenaged girls to prom and marry them.

This relatively new trend (or trope) in fiction made me stop and think about the message(s) being sent to women (young and old) about what is acceptable behavior in a romantic partner. When female characters had sex or were fed upon by vampires in the past, the automatic assumption was that this was an unwanted sexual experience, a violent act, rape. Then, when female characters who lived on the fringes started having sex with vampires, it was viewed as a kink that opened the floodgates to variety of alternative lifestyles. But now, when the girl next door (even if she is the chose one), decides to fall in love with a vampire or other dangerous monster, we have a vey different kind of narrative. A narrative that tells women that being stalked, hunted, possessed and consumed is the way to feel loved and desired, is a very dangerous message in my opinion.

The fact that vampires are depicted as potential husbands and boyfriends made me realize that I needed Carlos to be a true monster. He needed to be a cautionary tale, not a prize to be won. Happily-ever-after with a vampire usually means death for the object of desire. Last I checked, murder isn’t sexy no matter how handsome your prom date happens to be.

SMW: Carlos Diego Velasquez. The man we love to hate. Now I don’t know if it’s his character in general, the fact that he’s a glutton for violence, or the fact that I met him in my early 30s during the era of the Me Too Movement, but this bloodsucker really, really left a bad taste in my mouth (in a good way, of course). He’s charming, attractive, wealthy, and a smooth talker…but he’s also controlling, manipulative, and he attempts to bind Jacqueline metaphorically and trap her in a different type of slavery. This, of course, speaks to a lot of different notions: relationships, exchange of powers between races and genders, and of course, what privilege allows us to do. Can you speak to your vision with this character? In terms of a big picture, what did you want his arc to do?

MRL: I’m glad that you disliked Carlos. Vampires, regardless of what they have come to represent in popular paranormal romances, are monsters. They are reanimated corpses with impressive bank accounts and expensive wardrobes, and they feed on human blood to maintain their unnatural existences. They stalk/hunt their prey and use them to satisfy their hungers, sexual or otherwise. I didn’t want him to be Jacqueline’s savior. He isn’t supposed to be the hero of anyone’s story but his own.

He most definitely loves violence, but he’s also good at hiding the fact that he wants to ravage everyone with a pulse within a five-mile radius. To be an excellent predator, you have to convince your prey that it is safe to be near you. Convince them that there’s nowhere else they’d rather be than by your side. And then, once you’ve lulled them into a state of trust, they’re ready for you to take advantage of them. One of my favorite lines in book is an observation Jacqueline makes about vampires.

“Vampires are terrifying creatures, driven by an insatiable cannibalistic hunger and murderous urges. I was glad to have one at my side when I left the safety of the Lynches’ house.”

 Safety is an illusion for slaves that depends solely on the whims of their owners. Despite her feelings of attraction, she’s completely aware that Carlos is a monster. Almost every man in her life is a monster. She doesn’t exactly trust him, but at this point in the story, he hasn’t touched her. He’s made his desire for her clear and flirted with her, but he hasn’t threatened her physically which isn’t true of Lynch and Jimmy. A vampire makes better company than a slave owner in Jacqueline’s world.

I wanted Carlos and the other monsters in the novel to be less horrific than the slave owners. As Tananarive Due states so succinctly in Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019), “Black history is black horror.” I wanted to be perfectly clear that slavery and the people who benefitted from it are the villains. I wanted to avoid the accepted trope of vampires being romantic heroes. I wanted my vampire to be monstrous and I think I accomplished that.

Jacqueline needed to rescue herself. For that to happen, she can accept help from the monsters, but none of them are allowed to save her. Carlos Diego Velasquez isn’t a romantic hero that promises a happily-ever-after. He’s the first man you fall in love with who ends up betraying you by sleeping with your best friend. Except his idea of an apology is to try to rape and murder you, because you don’t love him enough to overlook his shortcomings.

SMW: In regard to genre, this book can be found in a bunch of homes: horror, dark fantasy, supernatural romance, a slave narrative, historical horror etc. What is the benefit of writing a book that speaks on so many levels? And what kind of research did you have to do to write it?

MRL: I suppose cross-genre fiction appeals to a wider audience of readers. Some people were hesitant to read the book because they assumed it was straight horror. In their minds, they have a very limited view of the horror genre and can’t get past the idea of being scared or freaking out about gore or violence or whatever puts them off about horror. So, when I explained that the horror in the novel really comes from historical accounts of slavery and the narcissism of the vampire, that seemed to put them at ease. People who NEVER read anything horror related keep contacting me to tell me how much they’re enjoying the book.

I did a lot of research for this novel in order to make sure my representation of slavery was authentic in all its horror. Some of the scenes of violence come directly from first-hand accounts of slaves. There are a lot of images of lynching out there if you want to give yourself nightmares, and plenty of print media from the time depicting the historical representation of blacks that made them seem inhuman. Some of the torture devices used to punish slaves were similar to ones used on witches, and I couldn’t help seeing a connection between the abuse and genocide experienced by these two very different groups of people.

Yes, there’s a lot of horror in this novel, but it is the horror of a history we should be ashamed of and never stop telling. Many of the terrible things that happen to Jacqueline and the over slaves in the novel happened to real people living in the antebellum South.

One of my reviewers mentioned that the scenes of supernatural horror felt like a respite after reading about the horrors of slavery. That statement alone made me realize I had accomplished my goal.

SMW: There are themes of dream work, folk magic, and masks woven throughout the text, and your descriptions of herbs, flowers, food, and drink are palpable, not to mention beautiful moments of imagery. What is your own relationship with magic, and how did it influence your writing?

MRL: Your questions are really making me think, and I appreciate that. But this question is really making me think about magic in terms of my own origin story. I mean, I don’t there’s a wrong answer, but I want to speak about magic in a way that doesn’t disrespect other people’s beliefs. And, that was something I thought about A LOT while writing the book.

Like a lot of kids, I was encouraged to believe in magic – Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy – and for as long as I can remember, folk tales and fairy tales were part of the background noise in my household. My grandmother, Dora, read a lot and her favorite stories were ghost stories, but she read a lot of horror and collected Stephen King’s novels. She enjoyed telling stories as much as she liked reading them and she delighted in being able to scare the shit out of you.

I don’t know a lot about my family history, but my understanding is that part of my family comes from the Black Forest region in Germany where apparently a lot of fairy tales originated. I loved fairy tales as a kid and remember the Disney versions being very different from the ones I was told. There weren’t a lot of happy endings in the versions I knew from childhood. My curiosity about the differences in the way stories were told led me to do some research and I wrote some of my academic work about fairy tales in college. And, I read as many fairytales as I could get my hands on. I’m particularly fond of Russian folktales and the more X-rated versions of Little Red Riding Hood.

For the most part, the people in my family believe in the supernatural and many of us have had encounters with ghosts. The ghost of the man who used to live in my grandparents’ house is part of our story as a family. Their house was haunted, and people outside of our family have witnessed the hauntings in that house. My mom told me a story about an aunt of hers who healed a burn on her hand just by touching it and saying a few words. My mom swears the burn just disappeared. The women in my family are smart, creative, skilled and strong. I’m certain some of us would have been burned at the stake as witches back in the day, because we all have some very strong opinions and don’t mind sharing them.

When I was a kid and first saw representations of voodoo and other magic systems that came from African traditions, I saw them as a form of empowerment rather than something to fear. Magic has just always been part of my life in one way or another, and it was presented to me as something normal.

Did anyone in my family practice magic when I was growing up? Probably not. At least, not in my mother’s family. I never met my biological father, but apparently his mother practiced voodoo and was the person people asked for magical advice in her community. My mom said that my biological father was really into tarot cards, talismans, and “all kinds of weird shit.” So, when I started reading tarot cards, playing with a Ouija board, and put black curtains over my windows in high school, she wondered if those interests came from him.

I don’t know. Do you gain an interest and understanding of magic through nature or nurture? I’m still fascinated by magic and how people continue to incorporate it into their everyday lives. Ritual is important. Tradition is important. I think stories about magic connect us to the past and help us gain a better understanding of our origins. All stories have a little magic in them if you know where to look.

SMW: As a fellow movie buff who gets most of her movie recommendations from you (side note: we need another Buffy marathon, soon!) what are some vampire films that you think are underrated that people need to know about?

MRL: I’ll watch Buffy anytime you like. I would also suggest checking out a vampire film a lot of people don’t know about, Ganja & Hess (1973). This vampire film has an almost all black cast, with a black screenwriter and director, Bill Gunn. Duane Jones, the actor who played Ben in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, plays Dr. Hess Green who becomes a vampire after being stabbed by an ancient dagger. I’ve only ever seen the film once, because for a very long time it was impossible to find and then you could only see a terribly butchered studio print that connected it with the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s. In fact, I think the only existing print of the original film was in a museum until Kino Lorber released it on DVD in the late 1990s. It’s probably one of the most creative interpretations of the vampire myth and it is a beautiful art film that vampire film buffs should see. Like most vampire fiction, vampirism is a delivery system for groundbreaking commentary on sex, religion, and African American identity. Check it out.

Also, if you haven’t seen The Wisdom of Crocodiles (1998), I highly recommend it. Jude Law is a vampire, but you don’t realize that’s what he is until we get further into the narrative. It has a wonderful serial killer vibe, and maybe you didn’t hear me, but JUDE LAW IS A VAMPIRE.

I have a lot of favorites when it comes to vampire films, but one of my favorite recent vampire films is Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. It’s smart and funny and has an amazing cast. And, it depicts vampires in a way that made perfect sense – they would be boring. Tom Hiddleston’s character is obsessed with vinyl and music, and Tilda Swinton shows up with a suitcase full of books. They’re like middle-aged Goths or Punks who never shut up about the things that interest them the most. I loved it. And, who doesn’t want to watch Tom Hiddleston suck on a blood popsicle?

 SMW: Who are you currently reading and what are you presently working on?

MRL: Honestly, I haven’t been reading much. I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks, but I’ve been relistening to some of my favorites and plowing through paranormal romance series, like Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series, Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy.... Are you seeing a pattern here? I’ve been consuming vampire fiction at an alarming rate, but I’m considering this consumption research. I’ve been writing about vampires a lot more lately, and I’m working on my own paranormal romance series. In order to write within a particular genre, you should spend a lot of time getting to know and understand it. So, at the moment, it’s all vampires all the time. I’m sure some people think that’s all I read and write about, but that just isn’t true. I read and write about werewolves, demons, and witches, too.

Author Bio:

Michelle R. Lane writes dark speculative fiction about women of color who battle their inner demons while falling in love with monsters. Her work includes elements of fantasy, horror, romance, and occasionally erotica. In January 2015, Michelle graduated with an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Her short fiction appears in the anthologies Dark Holidays, and Terror Politico: A Screaming World in Chaos. Her debut novel, Invisible Chains, is available from Haverhill House Publishing and Amazon. She lives in South Central Pennsylvania with her son.

Monday, June 24, 2019


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. 6. We had a ton of wonderfully dark and delicious submissions this year, which made the competition terribly intense, so I want to take a moment to thank all of those who submitted to the anthology; it was a true honor reading your work. I also want to send out a special thanks to Cynthia Pelayo and Christa Carmen 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: Saba Syed Razvi, Michael Bailey, and Michael Arnzen.  Congratulations! Such hauntingly beautiful work!

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

  1. In the City of Dead Dreams... by John Claude Smith
  2. Song of the Tinkerer by WC Roberts
  3. American Body Horror by Trisha J. Wooldridge
  4. Depths Yawned Wide by Travis Heermann
  5. Thalassophobia by Timothy P Flynn
  6. Discovery by Terrie Leigh Relf
  7. It is Forever Stalking You by Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert
  8. Stringed Pearls by Stephanie Ellis
  9. Diaphanous by Sara Tantlinger
  10. There Are Mermaids with Fangs Beyond the Waters of Fukushima by Saba Syed Razvi
  11. Neighbors by Robert Catinella
  12. The Temptress by Rissa Miller
  13. Release by Susan Musch
  14. Crone by Querus Abuttu (Dr. Q.)
  15. Conception by Peter Adam Salomon
  16. A Return to Chaos by Pete Mesling
  17. Dance Macabre by Owl Goingback
  18. The Art by Nicole Cushing
  19. Silken Whispers, Crimson Blooms by Naching T. Kassa
  20. Conjuring Monsters by Monica S. Kuebler
  21. Regarding Me by Michael H. Hanson
  22. Shades of Red by Michael Bailey
  23. He Carves Wood by Michael Arnzen
  24. Lava by Mary Turzillo
  25. Not Enough by Marty Young
  26. The Exile by Marge Simon
  27. Collection by Lori R. Lopez
  28. Meeting the Elemental by Lisa Morton
  29. Lighthouse by Lisa Lepovetsky
  30. Dear Christine by Lee Murray
  31. Possession by Ingrid L. Taylor
  32. Terroir by Gerri Leen
  33. Suitcase Tombstones by G.O. Clark
  34. The Pathways of R’lyeh by Frank Coffman
  35. Nothing by EV Knight
  36. Good Until the Last Drop by E. Schraeder
  37. Star by Donna Lynch
  38. A Killer Doesn’t Kill Because He Has a Knife by David Sandner
  39. Scylla’s Proposition by David Powell
  40. White night and Black Stars by Curtis M. Lawson
  41. Stardust by Colleen Anderson
  42. When There Are Monsters by Christina Sng
  43. In the Key of He by Chad Stroup
  44. Lepus antilocapra by Carina Bissett
  45. Victim by Anna Taborska
  46. In Our Last Darkness by Ann K. Schwader
  47. Give Me Your Six by Amanda Hard
  48. Home Inspection by Adele Gardner
  49. Apotemnophilia by Deborah L. Davitt
  50. Secret by Robert Payne Cabeen

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


Good morning, Deathlings!

A few weeks ago, Mercedes and I sat down and talked about the new Ted Bundy movie that premiered this year: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (you can read it here!), so today, in the spirit of continuing the discussion, I'm sitting down with Sara Tantlinger to chat about her Bram Stoker award-winning poetry collection, The Devil's Dreamland.

Sara is the poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA. Her poetry, flash fiction, and short stories can be found in several magazines and anthologies, including the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. II and V, the Horror Zine, Unnerving, Abyss & Apex, the 2018 Rhysling Anthology, 100 Word Horrors, and the Sunlight Press. Her debut novella, To Be Devoured, will be out with Unnerving on July 29th and currently Sara is editing Not All Monsters, an anthology that will be comprised entirely of women who write speculative fiction. The anthology is set for a 2020 release with StrangeHouse Books. 

So sit back, grab your chloroform, and relax.
It's time to enter the Murder Castle.

With skeletons and axe wounds,
Stephanie M. Wytovich 

SMW: Hi Sara! First off, brava on the success of  this collection and a big congratulations for taking home the Stoker this year. I really enjoyed the depth you brought to the H.H. Holmes story, but for those who aren't familiar with him or your work, can you tell us a little about your collection? What initially gave you the idea to work in this world, and in your opinion, what does the book represent at its most literal and figurative heights?

ST: H.H. Holmes was a figure I’d been curious about for a while. I watched a documentary about him a few years ago, went to a Holmes themed haunted house night in Pittsburgh, and then continued to read more about his past. The idea to compose a narrative arc of his misdeeds through poetry slowly formed through my research, so from there it was all about organizing my research and telling a horror story.

Working with historical horror was really interesting and engaging for me as a writer, but in terms of a more figurative representation, Holmes himself stands as a reminder about how even the most charming person can hide a vicious nature beneath the surface. His omnipresent darkness is with us still today because as the last poem in the book shows us, evil is something we can never escape. We might try to bury our demons, but they have a way of returning to our lives in one way or another. And also, perhaps, we all have a bit of that darkness lurking somewhere inside ourselves.

SMW: Historical fiction is always one of my favorite genres to read, and last year I dove into Alma Katsu's The Hunger, which was absolutely...delicious. What was your favorite part of the collection to create and explore, and then to play devil’s advocate (ha), what was the hardest for you?

ST: My favorite part, as morbid as it sounds, was reading the memoir and confession Holmes wrote while in prison. Since these events took place in the late 1800s, I wasn’t sure how much information I’d be able to obtain. However, Holmes’ writings are accessible through books and in the Library of Congress, so that was like a twisted scavenger hunt that I ended up really enjoying. Reading something written by the hand of someone like H.H. Holmes is a strange, intriguing rarity, even though his memoir and confession are deeply misleading and full of his own lies.

The hardest part was mostly the self-doubt when asking myself, “can I really get inside this guy’s head?” Since you mention this aspect in another question, I will save my answer so I don’t repeat myself too much!

SMW: Oh, I can't even imagine. It's already terrifying reading true crime, but to have to put yourself in that mindset sounds maddening for sure. So now I'm doubly curious: during your research, what was the most startling, surprising, and/or horrific piece of information you found, and how did you choose to work with that material and make it work to your advantage as a horror writer?

ST: Since so much of what Holmes may have done is speculation, I think the most horrific parts happened in my imagination as I tried to piece together the information the research did contain. Probably the most startling thing, to me at least, was how it’s believed Holmes started to articulate (strip the flesh) from some of the bodies he had “obtained,” and then sold the skeletons to universities for their science classes. Often there was a middleman who came in to finish the articulation since Holmes would not have had all the proper equipment; so essentially, the articulator would take Holmes’ money, not question where the body had come from, and then finish the process and help Holmes sell the skeleton to schools. It’s a little startling to think of students learning anatomy from the skeleton of a murdered victim.

I had a gigantic file of information and research I had jotted down, so choosing which pieces to work with was challenging at times. I tried to take the most significant events that made sense in the narrative arc of his life, and also the events where there may have been morbid details for me to take and play around with. The newspaper headlines from this time period did not shy away from horrific details, so that definitely gave me lots of writing fodder!

SMW: I love that idea of taking newspaper headlines and using them as a means of creative exploration. How charming! And speaking of charming, Holmes masqueraded himself as quite the charmer with being married to three women at the same time. In what ways did you pull from your previous collection Love for Slaughter here in regard to themes, inspiration, etc.?

ST: Since Love for Slaughter was entirely about the worst, darkest parts of love and relationships, the pieces there probably did help in a way. As you said, Holmes was a very charming figure, and that charm aided him in pursuing wives, mistresses, and even with his business dealings. I wanted The Devil’s Dreamland to be really different from my first collection, but I definitely think the morbid and macabre versions of love in that book probably helped me get into Holmes’ more perverse attitude toward how women could be used as ways to obtain the particular means he was looking for at the time. Obviously his treatment of women was abhorrent, so I really tried to give some of the women strong voices for a few pieces in the book so they could at least feel more real before they disappeared forever.

SMW: Yes! The voice you gave to the women of this story was wonderfully dark and beautiful and necessary. It was definitely one of the highlights of the collection for me, too. With that in mind, how was the experience of working in Holmes’ head? Was it difficult to tap into that persona and world view? If so, how did you navigate that? 

ST: It was a challenge for me and unlike the things I’ve written before, so while I welcomed the chance to try something new, it certainly wasn’t easy. I kind of disappeared for a while, didn’t talk to many people for a few months, and just absorbed myself in the research and writing. I felt like Mort Rainey from Secret Window, ha. I had to create empathy for a man who did not deserve any kind of sympathy; if I had not driven myself into that perspective and emotional mindset, I don’t think the book would have ended up the way it did.

I mostly reminded myself to tell the story I wanted to tell, but to write it in a way that makes sense for the character, even if that character happens to be a real person from history. When you’re working with more evil figures from history, I think it gives you creative room for interpretation. Plus, the accuracy for what we think we know about Holmes is pretty vague, so it gave me more room to figure out my version of Holmes and what he was capable of. Once I reminded myself of those things, it became a smoother journey for writing some of the pieces, but as it goes with most horror writing, we always have that challenge of removing ourselves from characters in order to write about the horrific things we (most likely) would never do in our own lives.

SMW: American Horror Story: Hotel used the idea of Holmes’ Murder Castle in season five. Have you watched it? If so, what was your take on it? Do you think they did it and his story justice? It took me a long (and I mean long) time to make it through this particular season. While I love Evan Peters, he just wasn't Holmes to me.

ST: I did not watch that season! I kept meaning to check it out after I heard about it loosely being based on Holmes, but I didn’t really like the Freak Show season and kind of stopped watching after that. I’ll have to give that season a try soon – AHS has been either hit or miss for me, so I will hope for the best. But I do think that since Holmes’ story is such a mystery, it does give creators a wide license on how they could interpret it for their projects, so I will be interested to see how the writers handled it. Horror legend Robert Bloch wrote American Gothic loosely based on Holmes and created a really interesting novel! I do recommend that one for anyone interested in other Holmes-based things.

SMW: Yeah, I don't think you're missing anything by taking a breather with the series (although Hotel did have killer outfits and a wonderful soundtrack!). Do you consider yourself a true crime junkie? If so, what are some of your favorite shows, podcasts, or books, and what about true crime draws your attention in general? 

ST: I’m not sure if I’d consider myself a true crime junkie because if I binge it too much I get really freaked out (especially since I live on a hill in the woods), but it’s definitely something that continues to intrigue me. I used to watch a lot of Unsolved Mysteries and I think it scarred me – the theme music still haunts me! Right now, I am reading The Most Evil Women in History by Shelley Klein. For podcasts, I like Histories, Mysteries, & Conspiracies and My Favorite Murder, but I definitely need to subscribe to more!

True crime interests me in general because it’s a morbid way to view evil up close, or at least as close as I want to get in real life. As horror writers, we understand that darkness has always been around, that horror stories have been happening for as long as people have been telling stories, so true crime is another aspect to how we try to understand humanity.

SMW: I can 100% relate to that because even though I watch, read, and listen to a lot of true crime, I have to do it in spurts, and I know when I need to stop because it starts to seriously mess with my dreams. With that said, if you didn’t write about H. H. Holmes, and had to pick another serial killer to write about, who would you pick and why? 

ST: Great question! I think I would definitely want to choose a female serial killer. I’ve read a little about Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova, a Russian Countess who murdered hundreds of serfs. She’s thought to have gone a bit mad after her lover was unfaithful, and this may have led to her horrific treatment of so many girls and young women. It’s an absolutely brutal story, but I think I’d probably be interested in the research involved since I’m drawn toward Russian history (especially Russian lore and myths, even though this story is very true), and it might be interesting to explore the terrible trope of women committing violence against other women since it’s something that contradicts my own beliefs and attitudes in life. I’m always a fan of making myself write what I don’t initially know or have experience with.

SMW: Oh, she sounds like just the worst kind of lovely. Count me intrigued!What is next in store for your readers? 

ST: My debut novella, To Be Devoured, will be out July 29th from Unnerving! Otherwise, I am mostly working with StrangeHouse Books on edits and the publication process for Not All Monsters, an anthology entirely full of speculative tales written by women. It’s been incredible working with these ladies on their stories, and I cannot wait until the book’s release in 2020 for everyone to read their work!

SMW: And finally, after all this talk of death and destruction, what horror movie and drink would you pair with this book? 

ST: Love this question! I’d pair The Devil’s Dreamland with Natural Born Killers and a Black Devil Martini which I have to link here! :-) Thank you so much for all of these fun and engaging questions!


H.H. Holmes committed ghastly crimes in the late 19th century, many of which occurred within his legendary "Murder Castle" in Chicago, Illinois. He is often considered America's first serial killer. In her second book of poetry from Strangehouse Books, Sara Tantlinger (Love For Slaughter) takes inspiration from accounts and tales which spawned from the misdeeds of one Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. Fact and speculation intertwine herein, just as they did during the man's own lifetime. There's plenty of room in the cellar for everyone in  

"...chilling poetry..." --Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of "How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend" and HWA Lifetime Achievement Award winner

"...morbidly creative and profound crime of the best works of horror poetry I've read in years." --Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Grave Markings and Play Dead

"...fascinating and absolutely riveting...powerful and vivid prose...will stay with you long after you've closed the book."--Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Collection of Nightmares

BIO Sara Tantlinger resides outside of Pittsburgh on a hill in the woods. She is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes. She is a poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA. She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and at

Sara’s poetry, flash fiction, and short stories can be found in several magazines and anthologies, including the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. II and V, the Horror Zine, Unnerving, Abyss & Apex, the 2018 Rhysling Anthology, 100 Word Horrors, and the Sunlight Press. Her debut novella, To Be Devoured, will be out with Unnerving on July 29th. Currently, Sara is editing Not All Monsters, an anthology that will be comprised entirely of women who write speculative fiction. The anthology is set for a 2020 release with StrangeHouse Books.

Sara’s website:

Wednesday, May 29, 2019


Good Morning, folks!

Today in the Madhouse, I'm sitting down with two of my favorite poets, Marge Simon and Bryan D. Dietrich, to discuss their upcoming poetry collection The Demeter Diaries. Now as a long-standing vampire fan--and a girl who has been mistaken for them about a half dozen times in her life--when I first found out about this book, I was turning-over-in-my-grave excited! I'm a sucker (ha) for those pale, suave monsters, and whether they're rocking a leather jacket like in The Lost Boys or dancing in candlelight like in Interview with the Vampire, chances are, I'm swooning and terrified somewhere in a corner watching it all happen. 

Now The Demeter Diaries is a record of love and longing and the inevitable horror that arises between the minds of Mina Harker and Vlad Dracula as they court one another in waking dreams. The dialogue, written in both poetry and prose, imagines a psychic connection that develops between the two even before Dracula arrives in England. As Dracula makes his way from Transylvania to Whitby on the doomed ship Demeter, the two would-be lovers transmit their thoughts across the waves and lands that separate them, alternately wooing and terrifying one another with the idea of love eternal and all the dark delicacies necessary to ensure it. Imagining the ultimate freedom of two beings bound together in darkness, the story reaches a very different climax than the one Stoker imagined. 

Needless to say, if fangs and blood lust are your bag, then you'll want to find a coffin, cozy up, and settle in because it's feeding time here in the psych ward.

With fangs, 
Stephanie M. Wytovich 

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

BDD: I have always been both fascinated and horrified by the image of the Demeter sailing blindly into harbor with no crew, its deceased captain bound to the wheel. Of all the films that have been made, based closely or loosely on Stoker’s original, none but Nosferatu come close to doing justice to the potential of such horror—a dead ship, a dead crew, a dead man at the helm, an undead power lurking in the hold. Later, tangential films come closer to the atmospheric possibilities: The Fog, Death Ship, Ghost Ship. But still, none of these have Dracula, a figure who embarks on this journey to find the love of his life, willing to risk his own, willing to crawl over the corpses of so many to get to a woman he intends to turn to the dark. At its best, this story becomes a metaphor for all love, divine or diabolic. We all want a partner with whom to spend eternity. We all want love. And love itself, when we find it, when we seek it, when we miss it, is always the same—a feeling that we’ve flown, fallen, been gifted, been cursed, been penetrated and slowly bled until the dull ache of longing saps us cold and sets our nerves on fire.

MS: I’ll never forget that moment – Bruce and I sat down on the pagoda deck after breakfast two years ago and Bryan came over for a chat.  We were all there at the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) in Orlando, Florida.  Out of the blue, he said to me, “How would you like to join me in a collaboration? I’ve this idea in mind, The Demeter Diaries –an alternative story not in the book, about the trip Vlad makes to be united with Mina. And you take Mina’s role.”  I had recently finished discussing Carmilla and a few other books of that era with my Literary Darkness Good Reads group. I was ready to roll!

*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?

BDD: Actually, I played the Devil’s advocate throughout. I was the voice of Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracula, the Dragon of Transylvania. Evil is a seduction, a wasting of will, an exercise of power outside the self, outside what we call human. Playing to that failure in all of us, that strength we want even when we know it isn’t what we think but want it anyway… That was delightful, particularly during these past two years when I myself felt truly helpless in the face of life events so bad they made me envy Renfield.

MS: My favorite part was building upon the setting (locale of Mina’s home) her language, the cultural mores of the Victorian era, as well as foreshadowing Vlad’s influence on her such as her lack of appetite, a growing fascination with blood, and fading affection for Jonathan Harker. This, of course, is an alternative plot to the original Dracula.   The hardest part besides waiting for Bryan’s response was getting the ending just right. We had to work things out via Messenger, which was not an easy feat.

*SMW: One of my favorite aspects of this collection is how well romance and horror build off of each other. When writing, how did you find a balance between the two genres?

BDD: My first collection of love poetry, The Monstrance, was a sequence of poems about the Frankenstein Monster and a gypsy. My second was titled Universal Monsters. The first dealt with falling in love, the second with falling out of it. It is no accident both of those books, and now this one, revolve around metaphors of the monstrous. I don’t know that there is ever a real distance between love and loss. We are all hemosexuals, bathed in the blood of what we want and what we cannot have, even when we finally, horrifyingly find it.

MS: Bryan’s Vlad was fresh and new to me. I knew that Bryan would use no clichés, I loved his poetry. And I had no preconceived ideas. Our characters developed as we went along. It was magic. I don’t think we did anything at all to balance the genres. The balance just happened. Of course, I write a lot of dark poetry and short fiction. Mina’s part is neither rhymed nor free verse. It’s prose poetry. With prose poetry, you can show rather than tell a young woman’s passion while revealing her secret thoughts. Plus, the form provides interesting contrast to Bryan’s part(s).

*SMW: Because this collection is made up of letters to and from Dracula and Mina, I’m curious—did you have to do any research for this book? For instance, did you re-read Dracula by Bram Stoker?

BDD: I have taught the book a number of times, as well as films based upon it. But, yes, I re-read it again and also re-watched many of the film versions, two in particular: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1974) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). The second was written by James V. Hart, but is deeply indebted to the first film of that name which was adapted from Stoker’s novel by Richard Matheson. Both are phenomenal in their own ways, particularly the second’s direction by Francis Ford Coppola, but both owe their deepest pathos to Matheson’s re-visioning of Dracula as a sympathetic character.

MS: Rather than read Dracula, I researched extracts and plot summary. I reviewed scenes from Lugosi’s Dracula, especially when Harker arrives at Vlad’s castle. I also watched the Gary Oldman version again. But our story departs from the original Dracula. As I mention in #1, I did more to research the times and locale, the fashions, customs, treatment for sleeplessness, etc.

*SMW: How was your experience collaborating with each other? Can you speak to your process a little?

BDD: This process was collaboration in its purest form for me. True call and response. I would write a poem and Marge would respond. Marge would write a poem and I would respond. However, that oversimplifies the experience I think. Actually, Vlad would communicate with Mina and Mina would communicate with Vlad and both would communicate simultaneously somehow, as if it were really happening in some eldritch fashion. Further, I posed this project to Marge when I was in a very dark place in my life and my writing. I needed something, someone, to help. Marge/Mina came to my rescue and returned to me a spark I feared I had lost. In fact, the last several poems of the collection were first drafted during the month and a half I was in the hospital recovering from emergency spinal surgery. This book let me rise and walk again.

*SMW: I think at one time or another, we’ve all gone through a vampire phase. For me, it started in middle school where I would read every trashy, paranormal romance I could get my hands on, and then as I got older, I started to move away from the romantic archetype of the vampire and settle in with the anarchist bloodsucker. Where did your dance with vampires begin and how has it changed throughout your life?

BDD: I read Dracula first, then all of the Poe precursors, then Carmilla, and from the time I was five or six I watched every vampire movie ever made, but eventually it was Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire that shook me to my core. It has been hard to buy into most vampire stories since then. When the genre finally reaches the high mimetic, it has little room to grow. I hope our book pushes that envelope just a tiny bit further.

MS: Vampires! I published poems & stories for magazines like Alayne Gelfand’s Prisoners of the Night, as well as providing illustrations for stories & poems therein; I still sell my poems and flash fictions to Night to Dawn, edited by Barbara Custer. I have been illustrating vampire covers and stores for decades, but I try to take a different tack.  I am tired of seeing illo’s of vampires with long fangs tearing into a mortal’s neck. It’s soooo yawn.  Sure, I read most all of Ann Rice’s vampire series, as well as Nancy Collins’ Sonya Blue (Sun Glasses After Dark) series. Robert Steakley’s Vampire$ wowed me, but what Hollywood did with the plot was trash. Only recently, I’ve discovered Gary Raisor’s exceptional novel, LESS THAN HUMAN. Totally unique take on the nature of the Vampire.

*SMW: Besides Dracula, who is your favorite vampire and why?

BDD: Louis de Pointe du Lac, the xenomorph in the Alien films, Eli from Let the Right One In, Spike, Angel, and the various vampires from I Am Legend, Near Dark, The Historian, and The Passage. Using a trope, reimagining a myth is hard. This is why so many genre stories fail or simply slog along through cliché after cliché. The vampires listed here go beyond, they challenge the stereotype, they expand the archetype, and they teach us more about our lives, instead of simply feeding our appetites. We need to be more than just vampires.  

MS: My favorite vampire is not anyone on the Buffy series, but I loved the movie! Favorite probably is the vampire Lestat because of his captivating personality. Second would be Sonya Blue – what a tough gal, like Wonder Woman without that sexy patriotic outfit.

*SMW: I could talk about vampires in film until I take my last breath. Some of my favorite are Only Lovers Left Alive, The Lost Boys, Near Dark, Let the Right One In, and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. What are some of your favorites and how have they influenced your writing now and over the years?

BDD: Well, I could repeat all of the ones I’ve already mentioned, but I have to go with Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Nosferatu, and Alien (also the film that Alien was based on, Planet of the Vampires). All three of these trade more in mood and metaphor than in blood or bedlam. I hope that my writing, like these films, is made of more than Papier-mâché and plastic teeth. I hope it really is bone and brain matter and blood.

MS: Bryan -you’re the movie buff!  I enjoyed Nosferatu, the noir version.

*SMW: What is next in store for your readers?

BDD: Currently I am co-writing a book of poems set on Mars with Steven Erikson titled Under the Moons of Fear and Terror. I am also halfway through a new paranormal detective novel and have been marketing a horror novel titled Strawberry Girl.

MS: A collection of poetry and flash fiction with Mary A. Turzillo, VICTIMS, and more!

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

BDD: Cultivate your masochism (it will be hard), your patience (it will be long), and your ego (it will take a beating). But, at the same time, develop your kindness and your humility. You will need all of these things in different measures to survive. Nothing worldly matters, not fame, not money, not prizes. If you are writing in service of these things, stop. Good writing, real writing is a calling. Believe in the words you serve, serve the words you love, love the world you are allowed to write such words within.

MS: READ READ READ. Books by writers you admire. Books by writers you never heard of. Join Good Reads discussion groups. Join the HWA, which offers on-line writing courses.  Attend Stokercon and take some of the Horror University writer/editor related classes. Good luck!

Blurbs for Demeter Diaries:

“Did you ever think that “Dracula” was a little biased against the vampires? And maybe if you heard the story from the other side, it might come out a little different? Well, Bryan Dietrich and Marge Simon show you the other side. And maybe it comes out a little different.  I charge you: read this one, and find out."—Geoffrey A. Landis, award-winning poet and science fiction writer

THE DEMETER DIARIES is an intriguing retelling of DRACULA in prose poetry form.
Original, compelling, concise, and precise as one might suspect from two top notch poets.
This is a must read for fans of the original novel. Highly recommended. —Gene O’Neill, The White Plague Chronicles

What a wonderful idea for a poetry collection! Bryan Dietrich and Marge Simon have collaborated on The Demeter Diaries, a conversation in poetry between Mina and Vlad from Bram Stoker's Dracula. Vlad's lines are suitably tight, classical, the use of enjambment tightly locking the lines together and emphasizing Vlad's considered choice of words--after all, he's had a few extra decades to think about them. Mina's lines are long and prose-like, evoking her enthusiastic romanticism with a kind of breathlessness. It's well-suited to her part in this dramatic dialogue, allowing her to show off her lady's education and quote from her reading (in this case segments of the poetry of Keats and Poe). Simon and Dietrich appropriately end the sequence with two poems in parallel, with short lines from each alternating down the page as the lovers call and respond. An impressive collaboration.  –Steve Rasnic Tem, Multiple Stoker and International Horror Guild Author

"A wicked read: sensual, romantic, transgressive.  Lovers dancing in a maelstrom of death and desire. This would be a great stage-play for the right two actors.  They'd have to be very thin, the woman very young, the man brooding and handsome, both pale, with very red lips." –Mary Turzillo, Nebula and Elgin winner, author of Bonsai Babies. 

“A cool and very creative interpretation of Bram Stoker’s voyage of the Demeter.” —Dacre Stoker, great grandnephew of Bram Stoker, co-author of DRACUL.


Marge Simon lives in Ocala FL. She is a retired art teacher with an MA in Fine Arts and a minor in English Lit from the University of Northern Colorado. Her fiction and/or poetry has appeared in Asimov’s, Daily Science Fiction, Bete Noire, New Myths, and Polu Texni. Her works may be found in anthologies such as Tales of the Lake 5, Chiral Mad 4, You, Human and The Beauty of Death. Marge has won the Bram Stoker Award, the Rhysling, Elgin, Dwarf Stars and Strange Horizons Readers’ Awards; she serves on the HWA Board of Trustees, maintains a newsletter column, Blood & Spades. Marge is the second woman to be acknowledged as a Grand Master Poet of the SFPA, and is on the board of the Speculative Literary Foundation. She attends the ICFA annually as a guest.

Bryan D. Dietrich is the author of seven books of poems and co-editor of an anthology of superhero poetry. He has published poems in Asimov’s, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, The New Yorker, The Nation, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Paris Review, and many other journals. He has won the Asimov’s Reader’s Choice Award, The Paris Review Prize, a “Discovery”/The Nation Award, a Writers at Work Fellowship, and has been nominated for both the Pushcart and the Pulitzer. Former President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association, Bryan is Professor of English and Chair of the Division of Arts & Letters at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas. He is currently co-writing a book of science fiction poems with the author Steven Erikson.