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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile: A Madhouse True Crime Discussion with Mercedes M. Yardley

I’ve always considered myself a bit of a true crime junkie. I read, watch, and listen to true crime on a fairly regular basis (shout out to Last Podcast on the Left and My Favorite Murder), have visited Death Museums in Hollywood and New Orleans, and last semester I taught my first graduate course in it at Western Connecticut State University. However, despite knowing about Ted Bundy prior to traveling to Utah in 2008, it wasn’t until I heard Al Carlisle (Bundy’s prison psychologist) speak about his interactions with him that I got hooked on the case.

How could this man kill so many women and get away with it for so long?
How could he escape prison...twice?
Why after all these years is his story resurfacing?

I was lucky to listen to Carlisle--who was a wonderfully brilliant and kind man, god rest his soul--speak twice during his life, and both times I left feeling absolutely terrified, especially after hearing a recording of Bundy after he’d escaped and called Carlisle to brag. I became more and more interested in the dynamics of the case, particularly later on when it began to resurface in the media, perhaps due to the success of projects like My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (2012) and its film version in 2017.  Nevertheless though, 2019 has seen two film projects focused strictly on Bundy: Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (a documentary series) and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (a film).

Today, Mercedes M. Yardley--my fellow true crime gal pal--and I are going to talk about our initial impressions after watching Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile and also speculate on why Bundy is “popular” again and what that means for our society as a whole.

SMW: Hi Mercedes! So what was your initial take on the film because my thoughts on this are a bit conflicted. I see some people (mostly men) talking about how this film is great and balanced because it shows that not all monsters look like monsters, and while I get that, the film also shows Bundy being (supposedly) railroaded for the majority of the movie, so much so that it’s like we’re supposed to sympathize with him and understand his part of the story, and then at the end when he confesses to Liz, that’s supposed to be the shocking, climatic moment for us, too. I mean, I even found myself waiting to hear him confess, and hell, I know the case. I know how this ends.

As a woman, I really didn’t like that. Personally, I felt like Liz getting gaslit throughout the entire film, and at one part, I found myself crying because I was honestly terrified. And I know some people are probably sitting there reading this going well it sounds like the film worked then, right? Why are you complaining? And it’s not so much that I think the film was bad or inaccurate--quite the opposite actually-- but I do think that if we take out all of the monstrous parts from the story that we’re playing into the it’s-not-that-bad mentality of what actually happened. This man was a murderer. He savagely killed and raped who knows how many women, and people should be afraid of him. I get that showing the “charming” side of him was a way to show the horror behind the mask, but he’s not going to be that monster if people aren’t shown just what a nice, educated, white man can really do to a woman. Now I’m not advocating for more gratuitous gore and violence in the film, necessarily, but the complete lack of it (aside from the pieces in the courtroom) was a little surprising to me.

Having said that, I think Efron totally nailed his character. He was narcissistic, charming, and over confident. Plus that reel at the end when they showed the costume shots of Efron and Bundy? Absolutely horrifying. Whoever did the set and costuming did a truly wonderful job.

MMY: I enjoyed the film, but it flipped back and forth so much that if I wasn’t familiar with the cases, I would have been completely left in the dark. They could have done much better with the timeline and adding gravity to the girls who were murdered. I understand and appreciate that the main focus of this was on Liz and Bundy’s relationship, and I very much enjoyed that aspect, but the mention of the murdered girls was almost...I won’t say “flippant,” but there could have been more horror there. Not to gore it up or be salacious, because this was one of the most respectful portrayals I’ve ever seen, but again, to add that gravity.

The acting was absolutely phenomenal. Zac Efron was chilling and such a likable guy. He nailed the mannerisms and I think really brought it home how Bundy could be an engaging guy who knew how to put on an act. Liz Collins had such a fragile look and I think she brought sympathy to Liz who is never portrayed in any sort of positive light. She’s always considered duped, weak, and wishy washy, but I think this helps demonstrate why we usually see her like that. I’m interested about whether Haley Joel Osment’s super adorable character is at all based in truth, because the scene where he talked to Bundy directly was quite powerful. Liz needed a shield between her and Ted. I’m going to look more into that, because I’m not certain if he was based in fact.

SMW: Yeah, I’m not familiar with that dynamic either, so I’ll be looking into that more as well. I did really love Lily Collins’ character portrayal of Elizabeth Koepfer’s, and I watched an interview with Collins and Efron about the scene where she slaps him at home and the two of them were laughing because I guess that particular scene took a lot of takes, ha.

Having said that, I did want to talk about the portrayal of women in general in this film (and I know some of this is fact, so I just have to accept that to some degree) but Carol’s need to please him, Liz’s waiting by the phone and her guilt at doing something wrong coupled with how she blamed herself for his escape after she stopped taking his calls and then the woman who “seduced” the police officer who was supposed to be watching Bundy in the law just made it seem like women were both responsible and definite conduits for Bundy’s rage, almost like “oh well of course he acted out--look what she did!”

MMY: You’re right in that it did seem slanted against women. Ted was obviously the hero of this story, and not Liz. They tried to strengthen her at the end when she got the prison confession out of him, which was an amazing scene in the movie, but didn’t happen in real life. I don’t know if the director even realized how weakly the women were portrayed. It was obviously promoted as a story all about Liz, but she seemed to be a far distant second character.

They also left out the total incompetence of the people around Bundy. They demonstrated that with the guard in the courthouse, but they didn’t mention that a woman (I think it was a secretary?) mentioned earlier that she felt uncomfortable with the open window in the courthouse and to keep an extra eye on it. By highlighting her alone, the movie could have showed how capable women could be. Bundy made several practice runs crawling around in the ceiling of the jail and other inmates reported it, but nobody took it seriously. All of the Chi Omega murders and sweet 12-year-old Kimberly Leach would have been avoided if people were diligent about their jobs. I spent years working in a sex offender home, and while we had certain types of clients, we also had certain types of staff. The number who were meathead power-hungry dicks were absolutely overwhelming. I had a much harder time with staff than the clients. I completely understand how a woman in that environment is undervalued and considered incapable when that isn’t the case.

SMW: It’s wild to think about how much of this could have been avoided had people been working together and listening to everyone’s concerns. And I think that was a big critique that came out when The Ted Bundy Tapes premiered because the general consensus was that Bundy wasn’t really that smart, but rather a privileged white male who was operating during a time when technology wasn’t at its best or most efficient.

This kind of brings me to my next point, which is the psychology behind Bundy’s relationships. The gaslighting that happens in this case is heartbreaking and definitely another reason why I think we’re all drawn to Bundy because he was walking proof of someone who did this to everyone he knows, and its effect on Liz was proof of emotional and mental abuse by a partner--something that is still unfortunately being questioned today.

“Promise you’ll never leave me.”
“Never lose hope.”

Liz was the one who held all that guilt, who apologized when he was arrested, when he escaped. She carried all this weight on her shoulders and it absolutely gutted me to watch it. He still made her a victim, even if he didn’t kill her. And the scene at the end when she asks “did you ever want to do it to me?” Damn.

MMY: Liz wasn’t the only person who called Bundy into the police, and I don’t like that it portrayed it as her responsibility alone. I know she felt deeply guilty about calling him in, but she was one of many. I see why they portrayed it that way in the movie for dramatic content. Also, Carole Boone thought he was innocent until the very end when he admitted his guilt to her face. As soon as that happened, she packed up their daughter and left. This is another important detail that is overlooked and underscores the strength of women.  I don’t know how accurate the movie’s portrayal of her is, but again, since the book was written by Liz, there would be an obvious bias against Boone.

I’m interested in why Bundy and Liz stayed together for so long. He was having constant affairs and sleeping with (but not murdering) several women while with Liz. It’s interesting that they left this out of the show. I feel like it romanticized their relationship. “Don’t leave me, I can’t live without you,” and he was thinking of her while literally impregnating Boone. Was it obsession? Was she his cover? Was she really his sense of normalcy? She appeared to be such a weak person in a way, taking him back over and over, and I wonder as to their relationship. Love? Lack of self-respect for both of them? What was that dynamic, really?

You also have to consider that, at one point, Liz understood the gravity of the situation. She realized that Bundy had not only had numerous affairs, and committed the most horrific of murders, but he had decapitated at least twelve of the corpses and then had sex with the bodies. He revisited several of them over and over, stopping only when the putrefaction forced him to. Then he went home and had sex with Liz. At some point she realized that her boyfriend was having sex with murdered corpses and then with her, but she still stood by him for much of the trial. She must have wanted to scrub herself inside out with bleach. I want to delve inside her mind and see what she saw. Why did she stay with somebody so obviously toxic? But at the same time, isn’t that so incredibly human of her? How many of us have also stayed in these relationships that slowly killed us?

This was also an amazing exhibit of Bundy’s acting ability. He was able to say what people wanted to hear and manipulate situations easily. I felt like we just watched him put on game face after game face. I saw this constantly with the sex offenders I worked with. Those who were sociopaths didn’t have the feelings and empathy that most humans do, but they knew how to mimic emotions. Some of them, anyway. Some didn’t care enough to do so. But some, especially the ones who were better at picking up social cues, would patter away and say what they needed to say in order to get what they wanted. It was easy to fall for if you weren’t looking for it, but you could literally see them arranging their features to look interested, etc, while there was nothing there behind the mask. It was chilling. In fact, I still have nightmares.

I was also struck by how many times Bundy used the same lines. “We’ll get a house on the Sound with a dog.” It worked for Liz and it worked for Carole Ann. He used similar lines on the police. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t make out your car because of the headlights and I was spooked.” It makes me think about how a good-looking white guy who has intelligent patter can pull the wool over so many eyes. “He had charisma. He was charming. He didn’t seem like a guy who could hurt anybody.” Looks are so deceiving. I was also angry that this worked so well for him, as it does for others.

SMW: I agree--it’s absolutely terrifying, and after watching this movie, a lot of personal experiences and memories started to surface for me.  For instance, that moment in the film when she wakes up after spending the night with him to see her child gone? It makes me think of the dangers of one-night stands with strangers and how we all tend to trust too easy. I remember one time laying next to a guy who I barely knew and thinking oh my god, how stupid am I? If I fall asleep, what’s to prevent this guy from killing me? Am I actually asking for it right now? Am I dumb enough to take this chance?

I actually used to hide switchblades in every room in my apartment when I lived alone because I was terrified of dating and I even kept a bat near my door in case I got attacked or someone broke in during the night.

MMY: But isn’t that what you deserve if it happens? Didn’t you consciously let a guy you don’t know into your proximity? I hope whoever reads this is taken back by those words. “Isn’t that what you deserved?” No, it isn’t. You don’t deserve it. There’s nothing you nor anybody else can do that makes you deserve this treatment, but this thought is SO CHILLING and SO INGRAINED IN US. My first #metoo was a boy I knew. He slid something into the window of my dorm so it didn’t close all of the way and lock correctly. I came home to find him lying in my bed, under my covers. I felt like it was my fault for befriending him in the first place, for not checking that the windows were truly locked, that I must have led him on somehow, etc. I felt I deserved what happened. That’s still ingrained in our society, although people seem to be just now getting a clue about victim shaming. The “What Were You Wearing” exhibits are wonderful at taking a cold, hard look at this. I’m so glad that we’re finally beginning to change the conversation about this.

SMW: You’re spot on and this is something else I’ve been thinking about, too: why is Ted Bundy getting popular again? Honestly, the more I think about it,  I think it’s because of the #MeToo Movement, i.e. here we have a charming, white, educated male who committed horrible atrocities...and got put away for it (and got the death penalty, no less). He’s the unfortunate silver-lining story in all of this--proof that men who look and act like gentleman can actually be monsters--and this case is proof that yes, there is evil out there but we have the power to do something and put an end to it. Furthermore, it was women who gave the authorities his name, so again, it’s heralding that call that if we believe women, even one woman, we can save so many more.

Also, the fake news element?  The blame on the media? It’s hard to argue that this doesn’t have relevance to our current climate.

MMY: I went to school for journalism and the current media climate makes me want to bite my tail in half. The entire concept of journalism is that you report the fact, and only the facts, without bias. Report the facts and let the citizen educate themselves and make their own decisions. Members of the media don’t become gods simply because they have a platform. They don’t have the right to spin information and mislead facts because it whips up excitement. People didn’t know what to believe about Ted Bundy because so many different opinions were coming out disguised as fact. The media uproar at the time, as well as now, only muddies the water. It’s shameful.

SMW: It was interesting to see this in the film, especially when him and Carol were discussing how to specifically handle the media, and then the fact that so many women were enthralled with the case and coming to witness him, crushing on him, questioning his innocence… I think that’s why the movie bothered me a bit because it felt like collectively, that’s what we as an audience were doing, too.

MMY:  I grew up in Utah and have several unique ties to the victims, so I’m coming at it from a different point of view. So many people are saying, “Oh, Ted Bundy was cute. He was so handsome and charming. I doubt he really did it.” These people are taken in by Zac Efron’s affability and wonderful acting skills. There is undeniable proof that Bundy committed these murders. He was found guilty in a court of law. Examine the evidence yourself and come to your conclusion.

Bundy’s scars still last where I’m from. I had a teacher whose best friend was one of his victims. She mentioned it to me once and then refused to talk about it ever again. But I saw her face change when she said his name. She literally spit his name out. She hated that man and what he had done to somebody she loved dearly. That made such an impression on me.

My father’s friends discovered one of his victim while hiking in the canyon. He won’t talk about it. My husband bought my engagement ring in the same mall where Carol DaRonch was abducted. Ted Bundy’s initials are carved into a tree near my father’s work. His initials were cut down and taken away.

When we moved to Seattle, it was the same thing. We lived in his old neighborhood and in his old hunting grounds. My husband attended his old school. We walked the same mall. We frequented the same areas. My best friend’s mother told how she was terrified of this serial killer while she was in college. She and her friends changed their hair because he seemed to target brunettes with their hair parted in the middle.

There is no adoration for him where I’m from. There’s sickness and hate and seeing him for the monster he is. There’s a fascination about the case because it’s such an inhuman thing and we like to stare at monsters. But I come from a place firmly rooted in that disgust. I’m from a land where loved ones were forced to attend closed-casket funerals because this predator destroyed beauty and innocence and only left ravaged parts.

We learn about the case in self-defense, in a way. One of the most striking things about Bundy’s victims is that they didn’t fall into what you would generally consider high-risk groups. They weren’t sex workers, drifters, or victims who had fallen out of contact with their families. They were school girls. They were abducted from libraries and close to their homes. They were murdered inside of their beds. How horrific is that? He didn’t choose to prey on victims who wouldn’t be missed for a while. And Kimberly Leach? What he did to her was so horrific and depraved. She was a baby. He was also accused of murdering an eight-year-old neighbor when he was a young teenager, but he refused to talk about it. Prey is prey to a predator.

SMW: And a predator he most definitely was, and again, I think that’s why the movie surprised me because we didn’t get to see the predator as much. We got to see Liz’s grief and Bundy’s charm, which sure, showed a different type of evil than previous examinations of him had, but I’m not sure if this one was better or worse for it. Overall, I think the movie is definitely worth a watch, and like I previously said, the acting, costuming, and set design is beautiful, but I think the message might have gotten a bit lost in the process.

MMY: This is a movie for those already familiar with the cases because if you come in cold, you’ll have no idea what’s going on. I would in no way suggest this to somebody who wants to learn about the murders committed by Ted Bundy, because it very much glossed over them. There are solid documentaries that cover the cases and the women involved. I did love how they put the names of the victims up at the end, and left them there long enough to really be read. It was a strong statement. Crime reporter Billy Jensen did a wonderful job saying a few words about each of Bundy’s victims, reminding us that they were people with lives and dreams. It’s a shame that one encounter with a psychopath defined how they are remembered.

SMW: I, too, really loved that they showed the names at the end because I think so often with true crime, we as readers or viewers, get so caught up in understanding the monster that we sometimes forget the bigger picture. Those girls were someone’s daughters, girlfriends, classmates, etc. Seeing their names there and leaving them up long enough to read made a powerful statement for sure.


For those looking for more information on the case, we recommend the following books:
  • The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
  • Violent Mind: The 1976 Psychological Assessment of Ted Bundy by Al Carlisle
  • I’m Not Guilty: The Case of Ted Bundy by Al Carlisle
  • The Only Living Witness: The True Story of Serial Sex Killer Ted Bundy by Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth

For a brief Liz/Ted timeline breakdown, we recommend: