Saturday, September 30, 2023

September Madhouse Recap: Mabon, Spooky Reads, and Fall Wellness

Hello friends and fiends–

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We started September off with some good, spooky vibes. Labor Day weekend was spent drinking fall cocktails, making pumpkin cookies, and reading spooky books by the bonfire with Evie. We specifically enjoyed The Skull by Jon Klassen–one that I have a feeling we’ll returning to again and again—and Vlad, the Fabulous Vampire by Flavia Z. Drago.

Then to continue the horror, Gwendolyn Kiste, Sara Tantlinger, Michael Arnzen, and I all went to a Haunted Tavern cocktail event in Pittsburgh where we drank smoking drinks, heard some ghost stories, and laughed a lot. It was such a fun night with a cool almost-burlesque atmosphere and I so enjoyed getting to hang out with some of my crew. 

Another fun spooky bucket list item for me was to go to The Living Dead Museum in the Monroeville Mall. Somehow, despite living within 30 minutes of it for the past however many years, I’d never gone, but this month, I finally made it happen–and wow was it cool!

We had a small gathering for Mabon this year with lots of yummy food, drinks, and good friends. I introduced Evie to fingerpainting, so we’ve been making lots of art together, which I’m really enjoying. It’s wild how her style is already changing. She went from poking and dabbing, to a mix of blending and broader strokes. I try to paint with her a few times a week, and it’s been really therapeutic for me, too, so this is something that we’ll both be fostering.

September also brought with it the release of my seventh poetry collection, On the Subject of Blackberries!  Releasing this book has been such an incredible experience. It’s been healing, nerve-racking, terrifying, and exciting, and I wouldn’t change any of it.

If I can entice you with another blurb, please check out what  Tim McGregor, author of LURE, had to say about On the Subject of Blackberries. He wrote: “It's brutally tender and lush with folk magic vibes. A chance to slip back into the world of Merricat and Constance, but filtered through a deeply personal lens that reveals a feral snarl and a mischievous smile.”

Also, Lee Allen Howard, author of The Covenant Sacrifice, wrote a beautiful review of the collection that you can check out here. Lee was also kind enough to blurb the collection for me, where he said: “Wytovich discloses the festering secrets of her darkest thoughts with the inevitable doom of Emily Dickinson and the dread-infused paranoia of Poe’s ‘Tell-Tale Heart.’Recommended for lovers of the exquisitely macabre.”

Outside of that, I’ve been leaning heavily on my PTO, taking lots of mental health days, and leaning into wellness checks. I made a bunch of appointments and have been having positive conversations about my mind/body health lately, and I’m proud of myself for working to take care of myself a bit more these days. I find that I tend to be more active in the fall (my seasonal depression hits in the summer), so now that it’s cooler, everything seems a bit more manageable and I’m doing everything I can to seize that energy. 

Plus, next month is the pumpkin king awakes!

On the writing/teaching front:

  • This month brought an end to my Witch Lit class via LitReactor. I had such a great time reading everyone’s stories and poems and the discourse we had in regard to gender, class, and politics was really inspiring. While I’m sad to see this section come to an end, I have four undergrad students I’m working with this semester who are taking independent studies with me on this topic. I’ve already read some great Plath/Sexton-inspired poetry, so I’m excited to see what else they work on in the upcoming weeks.

  • I was so honored to be included in Rue Morgue's FANGirl Book Review section. Thank you, Lindy Ryan, for including my upcoming collection, On the Subject of Blackberries! 

  • Re: Under Her Eye, edited by Lindy Ryan and Lee Murray. I remain so honored to be included in this deeply important project and to have been mentioned in Lee's introduction is just icing on the cake. You can read more about the project here.

  • In honor of Stephen King’s birthday on September 21st, I wrote an open letter to Carrie White (Carrie). You can check out my LitReactor piece here.

  • My poem “Dinner Plans with Baba Yaga,” previously published in Into the Forest: Tales of the Baba Yaga was awarded an honorable mention in the short poem category of the Rhyslings vis the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association. I am immensely grateful for this. This magical little poem has brought me so much joy. I hope it keeps reaching readers.

  • I got an acceptance for a short story that I’m really excited about. I should have more information for you all soon. This one is a based-on-a-true-story piece and not only is it dark, but it’s hungry.

  • My funeral service students and I got to tour the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science this month. Everyone was so welcoming and informative and we all left inspired.

This month, I read:

On the media front:  

  • No One Will Save You (2023), The Devil Wears Prada (2006, and yes, I had never seen it before), Moving On (2022). 

  • What We Do in the Shadows (2023): I absolutely loved the final two episodes. So satisfying (and hysterical). And honestly, what great character development for Nandor! 

  • Only Murders in the Building, Season 3 (2023): When Steve Martin killed that patter song in episode 8, I lost it. That was pure, raw talent. 

  • How to Become a Cult Leader (2023): I’m fascinated by cults, and this has been on my to-watch list for a while, although I’ll admit the way it’s formatted really unnerves me. I watched the first episode “Build Your Foundation” on my work break the other day and this mostly focused on Charles Manson, who I’m sure we’re all quite familiar with now. It’s hard to believe that Leslie Van Houten is out there walking amongst us all now…

    • “Episode 2: Grow Your Flock” was about Jim Jones and I definitely shouldn’t have watched this one before bed. I ended up having a wild, horrifying dream that woke me up in a cold sweat gasping for air. I didn’t realize that there was/is speculation/proof that this wasn’t a mass suicide but rather a mass murder. I hate that I’m so fascinated by this stuff. It truly unnerves me.

    • “Episode 3: Reform Their Minds” was about Jaime Gomez and Buddhafield. This was all completely new to me. The fact that members of this group were willing to get plastic surgery to achieve “perfection” and/or to help him see what it would look like on him is chilling. I found a few podcast episodes on this that I want to check out.

    • “Episode 4: Promise Eternity” was all about Heaven’s Gate. This one is always a trigger for me because a few years ago I went to the Death Museum in Los Angeles and saw the bunk beds and sneakers from the group that they were in/wore when they committed suicide. When I saw this, I had a panic attack and had to leave the museum and it’s something I think about frequently. Then, because I’m a masochist, I went to the Graveface Museum when I was in Savannah, Georgia last year, and when I walked into their crime museum (and truly, had no idea of what I was getting into), Marshall Applegate was on a TV talking directly to me…and the panic attack returned. Needless to say, this episode was a hard watch for me.

  • Junji Ito: Maniac (2023): I had a long chat with one of my advisees the other day about Junji Ito, and we both agreed that we needed to finish watching this series, so I tried to squeeze in a few episodes this month. I watched “The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel” and “Ice Cream Bus.” I wanted to like these both more than I did, honestly; it just felt like something was missing, however, the tunnel one did intrigue me and have some spooky moments. That said, I watched “The Back Alley” and “Headless Statue” and I enjoyed them much more, especially the latter. “Headless Statue” was perfect Ito for me (grotesque, filled with body horror, and bordering the sublime). After that, I checked out “Whispering Woman” and “Soichi’s Beloved Pet.” Now, I hate Soichi (he really, really creeps me out) so his storylines don’t usually work for me, but I liked the vibe of “Whispering Woman,” especially with how Ito had her change appearance throughout. This one felt more heartbreaking than scary, but I’m here for whatever vibe Ito wants to lean into.


Also as a reminder, if you enjoy and appreciate the work we do here in The Madhouse, you can show your support for the blog by "buying a coffee" (or two!) for our madwoman in residence: me! As always, I thank you for your time and support and I look forward to serving you another dose of all things unsettling and horrifying soon.  You can also sign up for my Substack, which is where all Madhouse interviews (+) will be posted starting in 2024. As always, I thank you for your time and support and I look forward to serving you another dose of all things unsettling and horrifying soon.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

August '23 Madhouse Recap: Writing, Meditating, and Welcoming the Fall Semester

 August‘23 Madhouse Recap

Hello friends and fiends–

August, August, August. You were an interesting, beautiful, cruel, unforgettable month, and I’m both thankful for you and happy you’re in the rearview window. I started out the month with a wonderful writing retreat with WCSU deep into the Poconos Mountains. It was restorative and inspiring, and I met so many wonderful people. Plus, Lindy Ryan and I got to spend the whole week together chatting, plotting, and drinking chocolate wine long into the night and it was amazing. I don’t think I’ve laughed or smiled that much in a long time and I’m looking forward to the next event we’re all together. In short, I’m beyond grateful for that time, space, and the memories that were created there. 

After spending a week eating farm-to-table food and meditating in word gardens, I came home to a bit of a work kerfuffle. I spent about two weeks of August plagued with panic attacks, stress migraines, and nausea, and it caused me to do a lot of evaluating. I won’t get into it because frankly, it’s very personal, but I will say that I’m learning more and more to protect my mental health and acknowledge my self-worth. Thankfully I have a great group of support people and we were able to get through things, but it really made me reflect on a number of things professionally speaking. 

BUT on to happier and more soul-enriching topics!

I’ve gotten a few more blurbs for my upcoming collection, On the Subject of Blackberries. The book will be out on 9/21 but you can preorder it here. Check out the below for some more insight into the book. I do hope they tempt you into reading, and if you’re a reviewer, you can request your copy from NetGalley today!

  • "Dark, lovely, and brutal, these poems are a tribute to Shirley Jackson and a hymn for the inner Blackwood sister who resides in all of us. Fans of gothic horror will devour Wytovich’s stunning collection in one sitting."--Jessica Drake-Thomas, author of Burials and Bad Omens
  • A haunting collection that blends urgency alongside the myth of pastoral, the supernatural, and the body. Stephanie Wytovich’s collection is a cacophony of seeking out darkness in light and light in darkness. Each line comes together in a dazzling cemetery of selves—past and present—seeking a rebirth into something truly extraordinary. If Wytovich’s words are a match, then this book is the flame. - Stephanie Valente, author of Internet Girlfriend
  • "Once again, Stephanie M. Wytovich knocks it out of the park with her inimitable poetry. Brilliant and beautiful, On the Subject of Blackberries is a worthy companion to Shirley Jackson's classic, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Everything I'd hoped it would be and more." -- Gwendolyn Kiste, Lambda Literary and Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Reluctant Immortals and The Rust Maidens
  • “Wytovich discloses the festering secrets of her darkest thoughts with the inevitable doom of Emily Dickinson and the dread-infused paranoia of Poe’s ‘Tell-Tale Heart.’ Recommended for lovers of the exquisitely macabre.”—Lee Allen Howard, author of The Covenant Sacrifice
Speaking of all things spooky, I was able to hang out with some friends from the Pittsburgh HWA Chapter at one of my favorite bars, Harold’s Haunt. I haven’t been able to go to a lot of meetings and events, but I try to make time when I can and I’m definitely hoping to be more active and social this fall. This night was a good reminder that friendship is good for the soul. Plus they had the 1964 Addams Family playing on the TV…so like, perfection, right?

Another highlight of the month was going sunflower picking at Trax Farms. We met my mom and dad there and ran around in the flowers with Evie and picked up some fall goodies. Because the sunflowers didn’t last long as we cut them, we decided to repurpose them. We plucked all the petals and then dried them out so we could use them in spell jars, simmer pots, baths, etc., and then laid out the rest of the flower to dry so we could use the seeds to feed our bird friends.

Oh, and there is something else new I can talk about. A lot of you know I spend a lot of time studying Thanatology, and this is something that's been reinforced by the work I do advising the funeral service students at Point Park. Well, I'm teaching a funeral service-specific version of City Life this semester, and I've put a lot of research, reading, and networking into place this summer to make it something special, but in addition to that, it also gave me the push to do something else I've been thinking about for years: studying to be a death doula.

I recently took a class and got my certification (something that isn't necessary, but I felt I needed it) and I'm excited to have this knowledge and start volunteering my services. For those interested in what a Death Doula is, you can read more here.

Oh, and if you’re wondering if I’ve started decorating my house (more) for Halloween…the answer is YES!

On the writing/teaching front:

  • Mid-August brought with it the beginning of my Witch Lit class via LitReactor. We’re deep into the forest together now, but as always, this remains one of my favorite classes to teach. I’m also in the final throes of the design for a new class that we hope to debut soon, so be sure to keep your ears open for any murmurings of that in the upcoming weeks.
  • I attended the WCSU Summer Residency at the Highlights Foundation where I co-taught and performed a lecture and reading with Lindy Ryan and got to meet my mentees and plan a bit more for the fall semester. I’m currently mentoring 5 students and we’re ranging on topics from the weird to the fairytale, the mystical, to the poetic, the monstrous, and to the divine.
  • I’m working on a new course that I’m hoping to debut at Point Park in the spring. It’s based on horror and thanatology and I’m having a blast working on the syllabus and considering books and exercises for the students. I don’t think you’re supposed to get this excited about developing a curriculum, but it’s definitely something I’m finding I really enjoy.
  • I invited Jessica McHugh into The Madhouse this month to chat about her upcoming collection The Quiet Ways I Destroy You. You can read my interview with her here.
  • I recently took and finished a children's literature course at Point Park University to help inspire my writing this summer. I was so engaged by the material that I made myself a short reading list to tackle while I simultaneously worked through the syllabus. Below is a small taste of that. Check out my latest LitReactor column where I talk about my journey with middle-grade and young-adult graphic novels...all featuring the spellbinding allure of the witch: Spellbinding Reads for Young Adults.
  • Into the Forest was awarded the 2023 Silver Falchion Award for Best Anthology at the Killer Nashville Con. If you’d like to watch the replay of the awards banquet, you can do so here:
  • I recently had a conversation with the ever-lovely Joanna from The Creative Pen Podcast. We talked about all things Writing Poetry in the Dark. You can listen to the conversation here.
  • A quick reminder: Shakespeare Unleashed released itself into the work via Crystal Lak Entertainment. This is the second book in the Unleashed series and I’m beyond honored to have a Macbeth-inspired sonnet inside. You can pick up your copy here.

This month, I read:

  • Made to Explode by Sandra Beasley
    • Note: This was a fun experience because I read this collection at the WCSU summer residency where Sandra taught a workshop and did some readings. I love when I can take advantage of these moments, to read a writer while they’re reading their work. It feels surreal and if you haven’t done it before, I encourage you to give it a go. It makes the book and the poetry come alive in such a beautiful way.
  • Maw, Vol 1 by A.L. Kaplan and Jude Ellison S. Doyle
  • I Hate This Place, Vol 1 by Kyle Starks and Artyom Topilin
  • Lovesick, Vol 1 by Luana Vecchio
  • The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke
  • Bitter Root, Vol.1: Family Business by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene
    • “Deep Roots / Rich Soil: Race, Horror and the Ethnogothic” by John Jennings
    • “The Root of the Matter: Rootwork and Conjure in Black Popular Culture” by Kinitra Brooks
    • “Blood and the Rut” by Regina N. Bradley
    • “Skin, Skin Don’t You Know Me?” by Qiana Whitted
  • Confessions of a Funeral Direction: How the Business of Death Saved My Life by Caleb Wilde
  • Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield
  • Inadvertent by Karl Ove Knausgard

On the media front: 

  • Pearl: An X-traordinary Origin Story (2022), Infinity Pool (2023), You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah (2023)
  • Cruel Summer, Season 2 (2023): Okay so I think I liked the first season more (it felt grittier and more layered, I think). I didn’t hate the ending here–and was happy when we got the twist–but I suppose I wanted it to be darker and more fleshed out, especially in the aftermath when we realize what actually happened. Would I still recommend it? Absolutely.
  • iCarly, (Reboot), Season 3 (2023):  So I was a huge iCarly fan growing up, and when I heard they were rebooting it, I immediately jumped on board. I just finished watching season 3 yesterday and 1) my heart has been waiting 15 years for this) and 2) How could they end on that cliffhanger! 

    • While we’re on the subject if you haven’t read Jennette McCurdy’s memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died, please do. It was one of the most honest, vulnerable, and heartbreaking books I’ve read.

  • Over the Garden Wall (2014): Why didn’t anyone tell me I would love this show? I told Twitter I’m about to make this my whole personality, and I just might. I really enjoyed this and am still spinning thoughts around Aunti Whispers and Enoch. Weird. Surreal. Haunting at times. Loved it

  • Modern Family, Season 1 (2009):. I’d never seen a single episode of Modern Family until a few months ago. Dennis and I needed something light to watch, so he recommended we give this a try and we both really love it. I know I’m impossibly late here, but better late than never!

  • What We Do in the Shadows (2023): I’ve actually been enjoying this season a lot and I think it’s had a lot of really funny moments. Episode 6 “Local News” killed me, especially when Colin started doing the weather; Episode 7 “Hybrid Creatures” is one that I’ll be rewarching for sure; and “The Roast” had me cracking up with the Baron and Guillermo. I still think Lazlo is my favorite character though–yes, sure, thank you!

  • Only Murders in the Building, Season 3 (2023): This is such a comfort show for me. I love where this season is going and I’m super here for the romance between Martin Short and Meryl Streep.


Also as a reminder, if you enjoy and appreciate the work we do here in The Madhouse, you can show your support for the blog by "buying a coffee" (or two!) for our madwoman in residence: me! As always, I thank you for your time and support and I look forward to serving you another dose of all things unsettling and horrifying soon.  You can also sign up for my Substack, which is where all Madhouse interviews (+) will be posted starting in 2024. As always, I thank you for your time and support and I look forward to serving you another dose of all things unsettling and horrifying soon.

Friday, August 18, 2023

The Madhouse Meets The McHughniverse and Then Quietly Destroys You

Hello Friends and Fiends--

Today in The Madhouse, I'm so thrilled to have Jessica McHugh back here again to chat about her upcoming poetry collection The Quiet Ways I Destroy You. However, before we jump into that, it would be remiss of me not to mention her other collections: Strange Nests and A Complex Accident of Life, both of which are absolutely inspiring and grotesquely wonderful. Do yourself a favor and pick them up when you get a chance, and if you're interested in getting a black-out poem commissioned, too, you read more about how to do that here.

Preorders for The Quiet Ways I Destroy You can be found below:

For now, though, sit back, relax, and let me whisk you away to where the asylum meets the McHughniverse, a small spot of existence filled with the cosmic and the strange.

Yours cruelly, 

Stephanie M. Wytovich 

SMW: Hi Jessica! Welcome back to The Madhouse. I have to tell you. It’s been so wonderful watching you blossom as a poet, and I was over-the-moon excited when you reached out to me about your upcoming collection The Quiet Ways I Destroy You. Can you talk a little bit about your draw to black-out poetry and how/why it’s become your preferred method?

JM: That’s such a huge compliment coming from you, Stephanie. You’ve been a major inspiration to me as I’ve evolved as a poet, so thank you for that, and for having me back in The Madhouse. It definitely feels like coming home again.

I’ve been a writer all my life—poetry, short stories, I even started writing novels in 4th grade—but I’ve always craved visual art too. When I was a kid, I played around with watercolors, charcoal, all kinds of weird sketches, but my visual art abruptly stopped in middle school due to bullying from my brother & his friends. I don’t know why they ridiculed me over my paintings and not my stories—less effort for them, I guess—I’m just grateful they didn’t steal more creativity from me.

It wasn’t something I thought a lot about over the years. I always said “I can’t draw” in discussions about visual art rather than get into the truth, so eventually I came to believe it. I came to believe a lot of incorrect things about myself, it seems. Just a few months before I discovered how much I enjoyed making blackout poetry, I seriously contemplated stepping away from writing as a career. I just wasn’t having fun anymore. It‘s wild. I had no idea what was right around the corner, or how deeply it would nourish my artistic soul.

Blackout poetry satisfies both the writer and visual artist in me, allowing me to communicate through words, color, erasure, clutter, illustration, and sculpture. As someone whose encounters difficulty expressing my feelings verbally, this artform accesses places of my psyche that require more glitter than words to express.

It also has a high celebrado payoff. I feel accomplished when I find a poem. I feel accomplished in a new way when I complete the artwork. Another sense of accomplishment comes if it’s published, and yet another if I sell the piece. In that celebrado sense, for me, it beats novel writing to a pulp.

SMW: This collection used Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women as its primary resource. What is your connection to the novel? And what about it called to you at this point in your life?

JM: I think Little Women is the caul in which most female-identifying humans are formed...which is an idea I explore further in this collection. From the book to the musical to the many film adaptations, it has always been a part of my life. The 90s score basically plays in my head non-stop. In high school, I got an A+ performing a mixed-piece monologue during which I transformed from Tatania at the height of rage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream into Beth March during her legendary death knell. At one time or another, I have been Marmee, the four March sisters, Hannah, Sally Gardiner, and more. But I feel like I could’ve only seen it now, as a 40-year-old bisexual woman whose body has been mandated, whose friends and family suffer under the bigoted policies of cowardly, ungodly men and their parasitic followers. Now I see the power of this story, and how it teaches us to recognize the power in our individuality as well as the shared spectrum of womanhood.

SMW: I’d love to hear a bit more about your artistic process with the collection and with the form in general. How do you go about selecting colors, creating the art, staging the poems? Is it spontaneous? Which comes first—the poem or the art?

JM: The poem always comes first. So much of the words’ orientation on the page influences the shape of the artwork, so it’s something I have to be very sure about before I start coloring. However, it’s not exactly rare for me to have all my colors ready and then change the entire poem in the last seconds. When I’m making a collection, I tend to write all of the poems before I add a drop of color so I have a more complete picture of what I want the artwork to communicate, so there’s sometimes months between writing and coloring. For The Quiet Ways I Destroy You, it was almost a year. And I ended up cutting 40+ poems from that group before the blackout process began.

Sometimes I get ideas about colors and shapes while I’m making the poem or looking over it months later, but I don’t usually get a full sense of the piece’s personality until I’m ready to black it out. It might look like I'm just staring at a piece of paper like an idiot when I’m figuring out the artwork, but I’m essentially evaluating all the tiny and not-so-tiny ways the poetry translates to colors, shapes, illustrations, and sculpture. And as annoying as this might sound, I see it, kind of like one of those Magic Eye illusions, but the hidden images are associated with the words already floating around in my mind. I do like to play with opposing imagery and subverting expectations when it comes to the interpretation of the words, though.

SMW: I noticed a lot of blood imagery throughout with allusions to menstruation via phrases and words like “hammered strawberries,” “turning red,” seeds, etc. Personally, I love that we’re out in the world talking about our periods now and that the stigma attached to them is slowly being removed and challenged (even if pink tax still exists! *eye twitch*). When it comes to horror though, how does menstruation factor in with topics such as body horror, the monstrous feminine, witchcraft, female rage, etc.

JM: While not every woman menstruates, I think we’re all attuned to a certain feeling that we lose a lot of blood in the process of becoming women. Whether it’s coming to terms with that monthly agony and the subsequent loss of it at a certain age, whether it’s all the ways we can birth children or lose children, the surgeries we require for our outsides to match our insides, the surgeries to prevent our bodies from killing us in hundreds of ways.

Menstruation itself is quite fascinating to me, though. I learned about it fairly early from my mom, who was a nurse, so I was really excited, then quite impatient, for it to happen. It seemed like I was going to experience something magical, though I had no evidence of magic affecting my friends who got it before me. Of course, I regretted that excitement once the reality of cramps and shits, mood swings and ruined clothes, finally set in, and I loathed it for years. When I started using a Diva Cup, some of that magical feeling came back. I’d always seen my period once it was soaked into something, which I quickly disposed of, but it was different in the cup. There was so much of it, crimson so dark it was almost black. It pours like oil on the first days, but its consistency and color changes as the days pass, and you really get to see how beautiful and disgusting it really is. AND MAGICAL. The biology of it, the extraordinarily natural blessing and curse of it...menstruation basically encompasses all horror genres. You want body horror—hey I've A1 steak sauce is oozing out of me by day 4, honey, come and get it. You want a haunted house story—my walls are literally bleeding over here. And you can get into all kinds of fun areas of witchcraft and cults with menstruation viewed through a lens of sacrificial blood. It’s a fun topic to splash around in.

SMW: Your poem “The Happy Times, Finished” reads: “Go to bed./ Try to sleep in spite of the great trouble.” I read that and my heart dropped in my chest. You know I love how much your work challenges and confronts the patriarchy, and my head immediately went to Roe V. Wade being overturned here…in addition to, well, a million other horrible things happening in the world right now. As we both know, horror has always been political, but I want to know how you specifically use it as a platform for activism, particularly with your poetry.

JM: I am both overjoyed and devastated that you recognized the inspiration behind this piece. It was created on the day Roe v Wade was overturned, in direct response to it. As Marmee says, “I am angry nearly every day of my life,” and though she hopes not to feel that anger, I embrace my own, just as I embrace my glee and my sexuality and my silly gooseness.

I feel powerless in a lot of ways that terrify me, but art makes me feel like I have control. It allows me to express the things I’m both scared to say and that I feel will fall on deaf ears no matter how loud I yell. It does that on an intimate level, but it’s bigger than that as well.

That’s one of the main reasons the sections in this collection are divided in 4 parts. The poems in the 1st part are mostly an I / You POV to show that we start this journey alone. The 2nd part is She / Her / They to illustrate how we watch and meet other women who inspire us. The 3rd section is in We / They POV and encourages embracing the vast spectrum of womanhood, joining together, and becoming something more complicated, something to be feared. Which is how we wind up back in the 1st person POV in the last part, with little hints of they, she, and we, because even though we have united, we are still individuals in the complex root system of womanhood.

SMW: With a story like Little Women, I appreciated how you challenged notions of femininity, womanhood, sisterhood and gender. Can you talk a little bit about how you handled this? Was it conscious or subconscious in its fluidity and conception?

JM: I approached the collection knowing I’d be embracing different kinds of femininity as it pertained to the March women, but it wasn’t until I was pretty deep into it that I realized the overarching story was much bigger than expected. I already had poems written for Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, but I started to add as many other female characters from Little Women as possible. Speaking from so many different points of view allowed me to explore all these little rooms in myself, where I composed from places of rage, love, fear, and fulfillment, sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously. At one time during the writing, I was under the impression that Marmee / Mother was the mycorrhizal fungi that connects us—and she is still a strong unifier in the collection—but after I hit the 100th poem, I realized the story of Little Women itself is what seeps into our roots and joins us, no matter what kind of woman we are...or will be...and that kind of support from our fellow sisters is what allows us to feel free.

SMW: To build on the above, I loved seeing a focus on awakening throughout: an awakening to self, to sexuality, to rage. I attended the Queer Canon panel at StokerCon ’23 recently and they talked a lot about whether queer joy as a place in horror. How do you think your collection speaks to and handles that?

JM: To quote Eric LaRocca during that Stokercon panel, “THERE IS NO ROOM FOR JOY.”
I kid, of course. To be frank, as a bisexual woman in a straight relationship, I often feel like I’m not queer enough, or that I shouldn’t be allowed to label my work as queer even though it is unquestionably so. In this collection, I threw those fears aside and embraced everything that I am without apology. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s a single queer poem in this collection that doesn’t exude joy...and maybe a little vengeance. As far as little rooms in myself go, that was a wonderfully cathartic one, and I hope these poems help others feel the same.

SMW: Something I’ve always admired about how you work is that you’re always finding time to write. You write at your job, on your off time, at conventions. It’s such a bright light to see someone love what they do so much and it’s inspiring to writers, no matter where they’re at in the career. How do you keep that love affair—or perhaps marriage would be a better word here—with and to writing so fresh and passionate and exciting?

JM: There are ups and downs, to be sure. As I said before, I considered stepping away from my writing career in 2018. But writing itself...I don’t think I could ever step far away enough; it would always be nipping at my heels. I think the enduring passion of this inky marriage (I agree, it does feel like that) comes from curiosity. I keep wanting to find out what other stories and characters and sticky icky things lurk in my psyche and figuring that out brings me an immense feeling of comfort and joy. As for the frequency of my work, I honestly don’t know what to do with my hands otherwise. Ally Wilkes said much the same at Stokercon when I noticed her knitting socks at the bar. I write to occupy my hands, to explore my mind, to fill the empty spaces, to calm me in awkward situations, to distract me from grief, to perk me up when I’m feeling tired. It is the cure-all for nearly every bummer in my life, and though I’m sure we’ll have our skirmishes until the end, I have no doubt our obsessive love will get us through.

SMW: What poets are you currently reading? Are there any collections you’re looking forward to adding to your TBR list?

JM: I’m currently reading Cina Pelayo’s Stoker Award Winning collection, Crime Scene, Maxwell I. Gold’s Bleeding Rainbows & Other Broken Spectrums, and John Baltisberger’s forthcoming experimental prose & poetry collection, All I Want is to Take Shrooms and Listen to the Color of Nazi Screams, which is a really fun mixture! I’m definitely looking forward to your new collection, Stephanie, and I’m always eager to read anything Adrian Ernesto Cepeda, Avri Margariti, & Christina Sng put out.

SMW: What’s next for your readers?

JM:I have lots of fun stuff coming up, including Seek & Hide: an education and interactive blackout poetry workbook playbook coming from Apokrupha this fall! My HP Lovecraft blackout poem “Arched Bridges” will appear in the 100th Anniversary Edition of Weird Tales Magazine (the 1st ever Weird Tales blackout poem!! EEK!) in October, and I’m a featured poet in Under Her Eye with my piece, “A Map of the Backyard,” coming from Black Spot Books in November. Also from Black Spot Books, I’ll have a story in their Mother Knows Best anthology, coming in 2024, along with more I can’t quite spill yet. And I am currently writing the 3rd and final installment of my Gardening Guidebooks Trilogy from Ghoulish Books. Keep an eye out for Witches in the Warren coming in 2024 as well!

Thanks for stopping by!

If you enjoy and appreciate the work we do here in The Madhouse, you can show your support for the blog by "buying a coffee" (or two!) for our madwoman in residence: me! You can also sign up for my Substack, which is where all Madhouse interviews will be posted starting in 2024. As always, I thank you for your time and support and I look forward to serving you another dose of all things unsettling and horrifying soon.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

July '23 Madhouse Recap: Writing Stories, Thinking About Life, & Devouring Graphic Novels

Hello friends and fiends–

I spent July thinking and traveling and meditating on my goals and what I want to accomplish in the second half of 2023. Do I have answers? Of course not. But I feel like I’m getting closer to some solutions. I read a meme or something recently that said due to not wanting to, I will not be, and that resonated with me a lot. I feel like I’ve been filling everyone else’s cups for years, and it’s getting time for me to start worrying about bringing joy and less stress into my life for a while. 

That said, we started the month off with a family trip to Hilton Head where Evie got to see the ocean, take her first swim, play with turtles, and eat her weight in flounder and hush puppies. Dennis and I even got to steal away to Savannah again for cocktails, a nice dinner, and a walk in the cemetery. It was a really beautiful night out and I have a feeling that we’ll be back to that city again soon.

After vacation, we started preparing for Dennis’s new job and the upcoming 2023-2024 academic year. We’ve been working with Evie to get her into more of a routine as things change around her, so fingers crossed for smooth sailing (it won’t be, but hey, a girl can dream, right?). I’ll be teaching a lot in the fall, so if I seem to be a bit crazier than usual, just roll with it and usher me into a silent room when I need to scream, okay?

As you read this, I’m likely en route to the WCSU Summer residency where I'll be lecturing, participating in panels, and doing a reading. I’m so looking forward to this time to meet my students, chat about writing, and work on some projects of my own. I have a hefty to-do list I’m looking to accomplish while I’m there and I’m hoping that the solo time away will be good for my head and my spirit. Also, I have a bunch of movies I really want to watch, and I’m excited to be able to put a dent in my list while I’m away!

Other than that, I’ve been writing like crazy. Mostly fiction, but some essays, too. I’m also preparing for the release of my next poetry collection, On the Subject of Blackberries, which is set to debut in September. If you’re interested in reviewing the collection, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. We’ll be doing a cover reveal soonish so keep an eye on my social media pages for more announcements regarding that.

On the writing/teaching front:

  • This month for LitReactor, I wrote an open letter to Charlotte Perkins Gilman on her birthday. You can read it here.
  • I’m honored to report that my poem “Bride, Woman, Body” is set to be published in the HWA Poetry Showcase, Vol. X. This piece was inspired by Elsa Lanchester’s portrayal of The Bride of Frankenstein. Full TOC announcement here.
  • This month, Lee Allen Howard stopped by The Madhouse to talk to us about the intersection of horror and romance and how it factors into his latest novel THE COVENANT SACRIFICE, which is now available.
  • The Price of a Small Hot Fire by EF Schraeder launched last month and I’m so excited for you all to read it. Pick up your copy from Raw Dog Screaming press today!
  • The cover reveal for Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 15 is live! Check it out above. This will be my second time being included in the TOC and it just feels completely unreal to me. I'm immensely grateful.
  • I've decided to join Substack to send out my monthly newsletter. Feel free to follow me there for monthly updates, reading recommendations, and other weird musings and soul swaps. If you’re already reading this there, then hi! It’s lovely to have you. If you’re reading this via my blog, hi! I’ll still be updating this space, but there will be more fun happening over on Substack so be sure to find me there, too.
  • There’s still time to sign up for the next iteration of Witch Lit happening on August 8th via LitReactor. Read more about the class here.
  • Shakespeare Unleashed released itself into the work via Crystal Lak Entertainment. This is the second book in the Unleashed series and I’m beyond honored to have a Macbeth-inspired sonnet inside. You can pick up your copy here.

This month, I read:
  • The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner
  • The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow by Emma Steinkellner
  • Hollow by Shannon Watters, Branden Boyer-White, and Berenice Nelle
  • Coven by Jennifer Dugan, Kit Seaton
  • Crumbs by Diane Stirling
  • Seance Tea Party by Reimena Yee
  • Unfamiliar by Haley Newsome
  • The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag
  • The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw
    • Their short story “And In Our Daughters, We Find a Voice” also completely blew me away. I’m definitely keeping this in mind for a future class I’m planning.
  • Nineteen Claws and a Blackbird by Agustina Bazterrica
  • Gory Details: Adventures From the Dark Side of Science by Erika Engelhaupt
  • In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado
  • The Camera My Mother Gave Me by Susanna Kaysen
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • Lure by Tim McGregor
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
    • “Ever After” by Lois Lowry: this was an essay that she had written about the ending of the book, the continuation of the series, her inspiration for the book, and her continued hopes for it. It was really beautiful and I’m happy it was included in the edition I read.

On the media front: 

  • Renfield (2023), The Giver (2014), Knock at the Cabin (2023), The Ritual Killer (2023)
  • Cruel Summer (2023): Episode 9’s ending? Jesus! I NEED TO KNOW.
  • What We Do in the Shadows (2023): Have I mentioned how much I adore this show? Lazlo is really shining for me this season. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes.

  • I started watching Tin and Tina on Netflix, and I made it about 30-40 minutes in, but as soon as the kids showed up next to the dog, I panicked. I went to and after reading a bit more about what happens, I tapped out. I don’t know if I’ll go back and finish this one, but if I do, I’ll report back.


Also as a reminder, if you enjoy and appreciate the work we do here in The Madhouse, you can show your support for the blog by "buying a coffee" (or two!) for our madwoman in residence: me! As always, I thank you for your time and support and I look forward to serving you another dose of all things unsettling and horrifying soon.



September Madhouse Recap: Mabon, Spooky Reads, and Fall Wellness

Hello friends and fiends– Thanks for reading Stephanie’s Substack! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work. We started S...