Friday, January 15, 2021

Picking Fanged Dandelions with Eric Larocca

Hello and Happy Friday Friends and Fiends:

Today in the Madhouse, I'm excited to welcome poet and author Eric Larocca to our ranks as we chat about his poetry debut, Fanged Dandelion. Larocca describes his collection as follows: "a dark and deeply wounding portrait of a young queer man on the verge of splintering apart, ‘Fanged Dandelion’ is a nightmarish odyssey that delves into the bowels of the human mind - a frightening exploration of the caskets we build inside our heads…"

Fanged Dandelion was my first read of 2021 and not only was it beautifully written, but it explores the darker parts of human nature, of our battle with identity, all while bringing light to issues of oppression, repression, and mental health. I really loved it and I hope you folks will, too, so please consider picking up your copy today and in the meantime, sit back, grab some tea, and walk with me through the gorgeous and nightmarish mind of Eric Larocca.

With barbs and thorns,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Discussing Fanged Dandelion

SMW: Tell us about your book. What gave you the idea to create this collection and what does the image of the fanged dandelion symbolize to you?

EL: Fanged Dandelion was essentially my response to the quarantine restrictions imposed by the United States due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I found myself burdened by anxiety and worry every day, and I knew that I needed to distract myself with a creative project simply because the craft of writing is usually so therapeutic for me. That being said, I was uncertain what exactly to write and I knew I wouldn’t find much solace in my typical prose form. That’s when my ever-supportive partner suggested I start writing down my thoughts and crafting short poems from what I’ve written. The collection is somewhat autobiographical. It’s essentially about a young queer man who is filled with inner turmoil because he’s being bombarded by hideously pernicious intrusive thoughts – something I’ve unfortunately experienced first-hand. The collection is about coming to terms with these horrible thoughts and determining whether or not they represent me as a human being. Fanged Dandelion is essentially an exploration of my identity as a queer man. The titular symbol of the fanged dandelion refers to how I view my mind – something ornate and delicate, yet capable of horrifying destruction.

SMW: One of my favorite things about horror (especially horror poetry) is that it allows us to champion and explore our shadow selves. The beginning of the poem “Fanged Dandelion” starts out with you saying: “I am a vile thing/ made of insect hair/and broken teeth.” Can you talk a little bit about how you explore the darker parts of yourself or human nature in your poetry? And do you find this approach to writing to be cathartic?

EL: Absolutely! Writing poetry (specifically horror poetry) has been a deeply cathartic experience for me. I honestly never anticipated sharing this collection with anyone other than my partner simply because the content I was exploring was so grim, so unapologetically bleak. I was afraid of sharing these pieces with anyone simply because I thought readers might judge me or think I was unhinged because some of the intrusive thoughts I explore in this body of work are literal thoughts I had once experienced. I’ve never shared this with anyone before, but I had to visit the emergency room one evening because I was so afraid of myself, so frightened of the thoughts I was experiencing. Thankfully, I’m in a much mentally healthier state now, but I’ve always been deeply familiar with the darker aspects of my identity. It’s an intimidating experience – sharing these gruesome actualities with readers. But I’m so delighted to see people responding and reacting to this body of work. It assures me that perhaps I’m not the monster I think I am.

SMW: This collection beautifully and viscerally explores body horror and puts it on display. In your poem “Venom in Bloom” you write: “he’d drink it all if he could, / turn as sickeningly green/as seawater/his mouth/a tourniquet/for venom in bloom.” What about body horror draws you to it and why do you think this subgenre continues to grow in popularity?

EL: I have always had a deep fascination with the subgenre of body horror. One of my very first plays, Parasite, was produced by a small independent theatre company in New York City and focused on the subject of body horror. I think I’ve been drawn to the genre simply because it’s so profoundly intimate. There’s a certain level of immediacy when analyzing a work of body horror. After all, we’re all human and we all possess complex human bodies – subject to entropy, disease, and decay. There’s nothing quite as horrifying as realizing that there’s something burrowing, feeding, stirring inside your body. In fact, my debut novella, Starving Ghosts in Every Thread, was a work of body horror and explores how grief and guilt can quite literally transform a person. I think the subgenre continues to grow in popularity simply because of its unadulterated honesty. I think audiences and readers are deeply unnerved by body horror because the genre is so immediate, and we can empathize with the characters undergoing the grotesque mutation.

SMW: Themes of repression, desire, and acceptance are filtered throughout the collection. We see character’s talking about secrets they’ve kept buried, hidden desires and fantasies they mediate on/with, and then we get to hear their own analysis of themselves, kind of like the doctor treating his own injuries. Can you speak to this idea of writing the wound and how horror can help us process trauma, identity, etc.

EL: Any time I sit down to work on a new project, I always consider the question: “what would upset me to write?” Moreover, “what would force me outside of my comfort zone?” Of course, there are certain traumas from my childhood that I’m not quite yet ready to tackle; however, the incentive for me is always to write from a wounded place. I’ve always been attracted to writing from the wellspring of trauma and suffering I have pumping inside me. Naturally, it’s of vital importance to monitor your mental health while working on such upsetting pieces; however, very often horror has the ability to help us better understand our trauma because it’s a safe arena in which we can confront our fears. For me, horror always has been a safe space where I can come to terms with my identity as a queer man and explore some of the traumas I’ve faced. I think that’s mainly due to the fact that all horror has to do with empathy in some way. We care about the characters in horror and when horrible things happen to them, it pains us. We suffer along with them.


SMW: There’s a violent spirit both to human nature and to the poems in this book. In your poem “Handle with Care” you end the piece by saying: “it’s my way of thanking her/for giving me things like/the teeth of the moon/something I never asked for.” First off, those are some of my favorite lines in the entire collection, but secondly, I’m wondering if you can speak to the lessons we learn about violence and rage in horror genre. What do you hope readers takeaway from this book, from these meditations within?

EL: Thank you so much for your kind words! Those were some of my partner’s favorite lines as well. There’s definitely an undercurrent of violence surging throughout the poems in Fanged Dandelion. I think violence and rage are integral aspects of the horror genre because horror is so heavily imbued with emotions. I suppose what I most desperately want to say with this collection is that these horrible intrusive thoughts do not define me. Your trauma does not define you. Your past does not indicate your future. More than anything, I hope people read this collection and recognize the fact that their pain, suffering, sadness will not last forever. I once lived as if I were stuck in a horror film. Everything petrified me. In fact, the world around me began to change. But it didn’t last forever and eventually I was free. I want that same thing for my readers – I want them to be free from what troubles them, what disturbs them. If you’re reading this, I truly wish that for you.

On Writing

SMW: How did you come to writing and who are some of your influences?

EL: I began telling stories at a very early age. I was inherently a very creative child. I would draw pictures and narrate the illustrations to my mother and father. Finally, when I began to learn to read and write, I immediately took to writing. Most of my early work were crude imitations of stories I had read or films I had seen. It wasn’t long before I took an interest in theater, specifically the work of Tennessee Williams. I was completely enchanted with the world he created on the stage. I devoured everything from his celebrated successes like The Glass Menagerie to his more obscure work Eccentricities of a Nightingale. From there, I soon developed a love of horror and devoted myself entirely to studying the genre. I was, of course, a dedicated reader of traditional writers like Bloch and Matheson; however, it wasn’t until I came across the work of Clive Barker that I realized how brutally fearless I could be while writing horror. Not to mention, I always felt remarkably empowered while reading Barker as he was an open and proud gay man.

SMW: Can you give us an insight into your writing process? Any habits when you sit down to write?

EL: I’m very militant when it comes to my writing process. I’m somewhat superstitious and I prefer to keep in line with my routine. Usually I’ll get up in the morning, have a cup of tea, and check email or do little things around the house. Then, I’ll sit down, strap myself to the keyboard and I usually won’t give myself a break until I reach a certain word count goal. If I’m writing a novel, I typically commit to writing one chapter a day so that I don’t overwhelm myself.

SMW: What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

EL: I have a ton of books currently sitting in my TBR pile. The most noteworthy books I can immediately think of are Valancourt titles I had purchased at my favorite independent bookshop, The Green Hand in Portland, Maine. I had picked up a copy of In the Eyes of Mr. Fury by Philip Ridley, and I’m so excited to start reading. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mr. Ridley’s work, I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out his impressive catalog. He’s written works for the stage as well as film and literature. He wrote and directed one of my favorite films of all time, The Reflecting Skin starring Viggo Mortensen. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about In the Eyes of Mr. Fury, so I’m very eager to start reading soon. I also have a copy of Michael McDowell’s The Amulet that has been glaring at me from my nightstand for several weeks now.


SMW: What is next in store for your readers?

EL:  I have a bunch of exciting releases planned for 2021!

Readers can currently preorder my next book, A Bright Enchanted Suffering. The collection will be released March 30th, 2021. Readers can preorder their copy here: https://amzn.to/3hYDFQV.

I also recently announced on Twitter that I have partnered with Weirdpunk Books as they will be publishing my brand-new queer horror novella, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, in late Spring/early Summer of 2021. I am so ecstatic to be working with Sam Richard (Weirdpunk’s owner) and I suspect this will be a truly sensational release. We have a few exciting surprises we’re currently in the process of developing, but I can’t divulge anything yet, unfortunately. Although there’s no preorder link for Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, I encourage readers to follow me on Twitter (@ejlarocca) to stay up to date with my current projects. In the meantime, I sincerely encourage readers to check out Weirdpunk and order directly from their website: https://www.weirdpunkbooks.com/.

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

I’m not certain if I’m qualified to give advice to aspiring poets considering the fact that Fanged Dandelion was my first attempt at writing poetry and I feel as though I’m still learning and will always be learning no matter what; however, if pressed, I would simply encourage poets to write what upsets them. I would encourage them to write from the wound that never healed, to write from their suffering and their pain. Poetry is a deeply intimate and raw art form. Be vulnerable with your readers. They will respect you.

Blurbs:

What Cina Pelayo, author of poetry collections Poems of My Night and Into the Forest and All the Way Through, had to say about Fanged Dandelion:

"The beautiful and dark vivid visuals, dreamscapes and memories that Eric LaRocca paints masterfully in Fanged Dandelion offer a deep intensity. LaRocca’s compelling poetry demands our attention, to look at the lovely dandelion in our hands, its cheerful and bright petals and to then submit as it sinks its sharp teeth into our skin. This is a collection by a fantastic and emerging voice in horror poetry, one that all of us should be reading."

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Revelation Behind the Poppet Cycle: A Guest Post from Donna J.W. Munro

Hello Friends and Fiends, 

Today in the Madhouse, I'm thrilled to be sharing space with author, Donna J. W. Munro. Donna and I go way back as we both went through the same MFA program at Seton Hill University, and in addition to being one of the kindest, most welcoming and sweet people I know, she's also dangerously brilliant and creative and one of the hardest workers in the business. 

I've learned a lot from her. 

Below is a post that Donna put together about her recent release from Omnium Gatherum: Revelation, Poppet Cycle Book 1. I hope you enjoy it and that you'll take some time to check out her book and everything else that the press has to offer. 

Best nightmares,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

"A Writer's Journey"

by Donna J.W. Munro

About ten years ago, I was talking about the limits of horror with one of my writing mentors, Mike Arnzen and he said, “A zombie romance... that’s the limit.” I took that as a challenge.

This isn’t a zombie romance.

It is a story about loving zombies.

I’ve been playing with the idea that grew into my dark, dystopia world for about ten years now. What if we could end all the terrible things that we do to each other by creating a class that we didn’t have to worry about hurting? Something not human. I should also say that I’m a history teacher, so I know that this idea isn’t new. There have always been people we’ve used as scapegoats or slaves or an underclass. One of the many things that terrified me about the American antebellum period in the south was that wealthy white children were often raised by enslaved women who acted as better mother figures than their own distant mothers. They loved these women and played with their children like they were siblings. But at some point in their maturation, they were expected to stop loving those people and suddenly think of them as property.

What a brainwashing, horrific society that was. The enslaved were absolutely robbed of their lives and freedoms by people they’d raised, while those owners broke the deepest connections they’d formed in their youths.

The last element of this book came from my reading of some formative books that need some reimagining. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn both examine the relationships between African American men with no power and the relationships they have with the white people in their lives. Both books frustrated me for so many reasons, but the willful downplay of the agency of the African American character and their humanity felt like just another example of this disconnect between the love between the characters and the disregard of their mistreatment.

So, my poppets were born.

Let me be clear. They aren’t African American. Poppets are the dead who have been raised to fill the roles and jobs that we distain or look down on. Servants, laborers, prostitutes. Why not? Poppets are just meat machines, revived and chipped, brain dead and without feeling.

Only they aren’t.

I really wanted to write the story of a privileged girl forced to deprogram herself because she couldn’t stop loving the poppet who’d raised her. I wanted her to be the perspective and I wanted her poppet, Thom, to be the hero.

I hope that’s what I’ve managed to do.

Blurbs:

“This stark, yet richly layered narrative, the first in Munro’s anticipated Poppet Cycle series, is a study of privilege, persecution, and the power of love. A chillingly perceptive dystopia cementing Munro as an author of note, Revelation is a novel worthy of its title.” — Lee Murray, three-time Bram Stoker Award nominee and author of Into the Ashes

The questions about the poppets - are they property or slaves? Do they have souls? - are ones the main character grabbles with throughout the book. This story also reminded me of Unwind by Neal Shusterman. Same creepy vibe, but completely different story. -Maria V. Snyder, New York Times bestselling author of the Sentinels of the Galaxy series.

Donna J. W. Munro is an explosive talent on the genre scene, and here she emerges with a surprisingly touching dark science-fiction YA novel set in a completely original dystopian world.  She has crafted an amazing, original take on the zombie -- the “poppet” worker -- and a reimagined future world in a tale that is about so much more than just the living dead.  It is a story of love, courage and liberation. And like the most inventive social stories of Ray Bradbury and the epic coming-of-age narratives of Stephen King, Munro’s novel will leave an indelible memory in your brain, and awaken you to the power of genre storytelling. Revelation launches an excellent new cycle that readers young and old alike will adore! -- Michael Arnzen, author of Grave Markings

Book Summary:

In a dark future, people harvest the dead to use as servants called poppets. 16 year-old Ellie must choose between a life of wealth and greatness or her love for her poppet, Thom. A boy from the wilds shows her that her family’s business trading in poppets isn’t as innocent as she was taught. Her choice will change the world.


Author Bio
:

Donna J. W. Munro’s pieces are published in Dark Moon Digest # 34, Flash Fiction Magazine, Astounding Outpost, Nothing’s Sacred Magazine IV and V, Corvid Queen, Hazard Yet Forward (2012), Enter the Apocalypse (2017), Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths II (2018), Terror Politico (2019), It Calls from the Forest (2020), Borderlands 7 (2020), Gray Sisters Vol 1(2020), Borderlands Vol 7 (2020), and others. Her upcoming novel, Revelations: Poppet Cycle 1, will be published by Omnium Gatherum in January 2021. Contact her at https://www.donnajwmunro.com or @DonnaJWMunro on Twitter.

Sign up for her newsletter via: tinyurl.com/yay2ryb4

Friday, November 20, 2020

Birthing Monsters: An Interview With Jessica McHugh

Hello Friends and Fiends-

Today in the Madhouse, I'm excited to welcome back Jessica McHugh for a chat about her debut black-out poetry collection:  A Complex Accident of LifeInspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, McHugh combines visual art and text to create 52 pieces of Gothic blackout poetry exploring the intense passion, enigmatic nature, and transformative pleasure of life viewed through the kaleidoscopic lens of a female horror artist. 

If you haven't picked up a copy of the book yet, I truly cannot recommend it enough, and if you want to see my review on the collection, you can check it out here. As per usual, links for the book as well as blurbs to further entice you will be listed after the interview.

So with that said, grab your tea, your spare body parts, and get ready to dive into the McHughniverse because it's time to stitch together bodies and make some horror.

With scissors and scalpels,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

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

JM: A Complex Accident of Life is a collection of blackout poetry inspired by and created from the prose of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. After realizing I 1) enjoyed making blackout poetry last year, 2) was fairly good at it, and 3) could actually turn a profit doing commissions, I spent hours upon hours creating pieces and posting them on social media. That’s where Jacob Haddon of Apokrupha started following my poetry work--we’d worked together previously on my kaiju novella, Home Birth. I was floored when he asked if I’d be interested in compiling a collection because I honestly hadn’t even considered it at that point. I was just having a great time making and selling them. Obviously, I enthusiastically agreed, and I ended up turning what was a handful of Frankenstein poems at the time into 53 unique pieces.

I talk about this in my author’s note, but I started doing blackout poetry as thank you gifts for people who donated to help our family out of a rough financial situation. Not only did those donations and the commission sales that followed save my family at a crucial time, creating blackout poetry and releasing this collection has gifted me with joys I never expected. To me, the fact that any of this happened is both figuratively and literally a complex accident of life.

At its heart, though, I think it tells the story of women, especially those inextricably entangled with art, and those who’ve been told “no” all their lives but [were] not permitted to say it themselves lest they be seen as disagreeable or, god forbid, unladylike. In a way, I guess it’s my ode to women that proudly say “fuck you” with their art.

SMWHow did you decide on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the go-to for this project? Do you have an interest in or relationship to the book itself? Can you remember the first time you read it and what your reaction was?

JM: As many female writers in the horror genre could say, I have a strong connection to Frankenstein as a piece of art and as a tether to our gothic mama bear, Mary Shelley. But the truth is I read the novel fairly late in life. It was Kenneth Branagh’s film that finally led me to read the book that had been sitting on my shelf for ages. I enjoyed it, to say the least. It’s pretty hard not to, especially considering its origin story. But to be honest, a stage version I saw in 2019, directed by my friend (and a talented actress herself), Melissa LaMartina, held more inspiration for me while I was creating than the literal interpretation of the text. The play, a gender-swapped telling of the story featuring some amazing actors and spectacular puppetry, wouldn’t leave my brain as I created these pieces. I count myself lucky I got to draw from so much varied inspirado while I played around with Shelley’s prose.


SMWI love creating black-out poetry. It’s so cathartic and it works my brain in a different way compared to when I’m just straight out writing it from scratch. Can you talk a little bit about what your process looks like when you’re making it?

JM: I try not to read the page before searching for a poem. I instead look for descriptive or standout words I think will create the most imagery in the shortest amount of time. I’m also looking to create metaphors that speak to the reader, so I’ll search out pages that start with things like “I am,” “We are,” “love is,” and hopefully find a rad string of words to complete the thought. But sometimes the entire poem reveals itself immediately. I find there’s a big difference between “finding” and “building” the poem, though I’m not sure I prefer one method over the other.

When it comes to figuring out the visual aspect, I stare at the page and the shape of the poem and try to figure out what color the mood is, or what flourishes it needs to highlight aspects of the piece or make it easier for the reader to absorb. My husband has colored some of my poetry (especially when I was suffering from a pinched nerve) and I’d give him a post-it note for each poem describing what it looked like to me, and I gotta imagine it’s hard interpreting what I’ve scribbled down for design notes. But sometimes the color/design doesn’t come to me right away, and I set aside the piece for later rather than force something that doesn’t feel natural.

SMWSomething that I absolutely loved about this collection was that it was very female-forward in its themes and metaphors, which is ironic because Frankenstein certainly doesn’t read that way. Was this approach something that you did intentionally? If so, can you speak more about why you wanted to focus on such monstrously beautiful ladies? And if not, when did you start to notice these patterns taking shape?

JM: Thanks to my friend’s play, I heard everything in a female voice. Like, pretty much all the characters. I heard Victor as a woman. I heard the Creature as a woman. Every individual in the novel seemed a facet of the same femininity. And because I don’t read a page ahead of time, I didn’t necessarily know who was speaking at any given moment. I embraced the feeling like everything was coming from the same speaker. I am the creator and creation, and I’m the only who can liberate us both, each of us corrupt, each of us virtuous. So yes, it was completely intentional from the get-go, but I had no idea how it would come off once the poems were compiled. I was pleasantly surprised when I arranged them by page order and discovered a fairly cohesive story hiding in the poems: about Mary Shelley, about female artists and the passion to create, and about my personal journey in writing horror.

SMWMuch like the original text, this collection tackles some philosophical issues about humanity’s existence, the idea of right and wrong, and how we present ourselves (hero vs. villain, man vs. monster). In your mind, how you define a monster, and much like Victor’s infamous creature, is there a gray line as to what constitutes a monster or can be defined as monstrous behavior?

JM: I think there are various monsters in all of us, created by ourselves and put upon us by others. Some of these monsters are freeing--they convince us doing the wrong thing is the right thing because it makes us feel good or creates something no else, even ourselves at our most virtuous, ever could. Certainly if your monstrosities hurt others, that’s not great, but there are good monsters that push us toward darkness and destruction and you have to hope there’s still enough light in you to pull you back from the edge when needed. The balance is important. Recognizing it is much easier said than done, unfortunately, and I think that’s when people lose themselves in destructive behaviors. I know I’ve fallen victim to my own monsters quite a bit, but I’ve also been lifted up by them.

SMWAnother facet of this collection that I enjoyed was the nod to female rage and sexuality particularly in poems like “Restrained, but Firm,” “Foundations,” and “Tears Collected.” Can you talk a bit about the advantages of portraying female rage and sexuality in horror, and why 1) we need to normalize it and 2) we need more of it?


JM: It’s wacky to me that we even question whether or not to include/highlight female rage and sexuality in art because I feel like those very natural concepts are kinda the impetus of all life. To deny them, [let alone] even fight to keep [them] hidden from society, is the acme of idiocy and ignorance. And not just in horror. Why would anyone ever want to portray a woman as anything less than a fully-realized individual, true and flawed and hungry as any man? That makes no sense to me. Women can be just as beastly as men, just as capable of rage and loathing and wanton destruction, just like men can be quiet and nurturing and full of the desperate longing we so often assigned to female characters. We definitely need more artists lifting up the rock of femininity and showing the world all the weird, nasty, deadly, beautiful things squirming beneath. 

SMWWho are some of your favorite writers when it comes to poetry? Are there certain voices you feel are must-reads for readers or writers of horror poetry specifically?

JM: Can I say YOU? ;) Seriously though, you’ve been a big inspiration for me when it comes to horror poetry. Linda Addison as well. And I will likely never be able to shake my intense love of Walt Whitman, especially Leaves of Grass. I was just reading “Song of Joys” the other night when I was feeling low; it never fails to boost my mood. Though it’s technically not horror (but I’d argue there are definitely aspects of horror in Leaves of Grass because I believe there’s horror in all things), the honesty and lyrical nature of Whitman’s writing is eternally inspirational. I also take a lot of my poetic inspiration from flash fiction, and Michael A. Arnzen is one of the best when it comes to horror flash.

SMWWhat books are currently sitting in your TBR pile?

JM: An ARC of James Newman’s newest, Ride or Die, Cynthia Pelayo’s Into the Forest & All the Way Through, Hailey Piper’s Benny Rose, the Cannibal King, and Max Booth III’s Touch the Night. Unfortunately my reading progress has taken a huge hit during the pandemic. Spring and Summer were my biggest reading months because I taught creative writing in DC and had to drive/ride the train, so I’d consume a lot of fiction. I desperately need to remedy that situation because I have some truly fantastic writers in my TBR.


SMWWhat’s next in store for your readers?

JM: In Summer 2021, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing will release a new version of my novel Rabbits in the Garden, followed by its long-awaited sequel, Hares in the Hedgerow. I also have a story in Strangehouse Books’ Not All Monsters anthology edited by Sara Tantlinger, and some forthcoming short stories I’m not quite allowed to mention yet. Nor can I mention the two books I’m writing during my return to NaNoWriMo this month, but rest assured, there is a lot of McHughniverse on the horizon.

Blurbs:

Full of color and stunning imagery, Jessica McHugh takes Mary Shelley's classic and finds new depth and meaning within. A Complex Accident of Life is indeed a vessel of dauntless courage, inspiring and hopeful." —doungjai gam, author of glass slipper dreams, shattered 


Renegade alchemist Jessica McHugh revives Mary Shelley even while vivisecting her mind and reassembling the anatomy of her ideas, remaking her as a hauntingly beautiful structure of undead words and lively art. Unlike others working in the medium of blackout poetry McHugh deploys a wide array of both visual strategies and approaches to composition, rendering A Complex Accident of Lifecompelling and compulsively re-readable. —John Edward Lawson, author of Bibliophobia


In A Complex Accident of Life, Jessica McHugh strikingly combines different modes of art to create a truly unique collection. This remix of a beloved work through blackout poetry shows a lot of care in every selected word and the arrangement within each piece. I enjoyed the visuals just as much as the poems themselves. True spirit, passion, and creativity live within every piece; the book is not only an exquisite tribute to Mary Shelley, but also cleverly showcases McHugh’s own beautiful poetic talent. Highly recommended! —Sara Tantlinger, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Devil’s Dreamland


Bio

Jessica McHugh is a novelist, poet, and internationally-produced playwright running amok in the fields of horror, sci-fi, young adult, and wherever else her peculiar mind leads. She's had twenty-four books published in twelve years, including her bizarro romp, "The Green Kangaroos," her YA series, "The Darla Decker Diaries," and her blackout poetry collection, "A Complex Accident of Life." Please visit JessicaMcHughBooks.com for more samples of the McHughniverse.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

TRICK OR TREAT: LUCY SNYDER'S HALLOWEEN SEASON IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER

Hello Friends and Fiends,

We’re quickly approaching the release date for Lucy Snyder’s short story collection Halloween Season on October 5th. Now during a time when we can all use a little more holiday cheer, Halloween Season certainly takes us to where we need and want to be. For dedicated fans, the season begins when the leaves start turning autumn colors and doesn't finish until Hallowtide ends in November. With it comes a whole lot of fun: scary movies and stories, haunted houses, seasonal sweets, spooky decorations, costume parties, and of course trick or treat. But Halloween is also a deeply spiritual time for some; it's an opportunity to remember and honor loved ones who have passed on.

Master storyteller Lucy A. Snyder has filled her cauldron with everything that Halloween means to her and distilled it into a spell-binding volume of stories. Within these pages you'll find thrills and chills, hilarity and horrors, the sweet and the naughty.

One of the best things about Halloween is you don’t have to be yourself. So go ahead and try on a new mask or two ... you may discover hidden talents as a witch, a pirate, a space voyager, a zombie fighter, or even an elf. This is the perfect collection to celebrate the season of the dead or to summon those heady autumn vibes whenever you like. You may even find a couple of tales that evoke a certain winter holiday that keeps trying to crowd in on the fun!

Now in anticipation of this sweet little treat, I wanted to share a personal spooky season tale with all of you in celebration of the most wonderful time of the year.

So most of you know that my family is crazy (and I say that with love--hi mom and dad!). We used to have these really intense scare wars when my brother and I lived at home, and this lead to my dad stuffing a clown in the back seat of my car, to my brother dressing up like a clown and hiding in the shower, to my Mom dressing up like Ghostface and jumping out of the woods at me while I was riding my quad.

Almost all of these moments ended with me screaming and crying and being terrified to ever go in my garage or my shower or the woods alone again, but the one prank that definitely stood out among the rest goes to my dad and crowns him the Wytovich Scare War Champion.

Here’s what happened:

I was notorious for forgetting my house key as a kid. Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to break into our house or my parent’s cars in order to hit the garage door opener so I wouldn’t have to sit outside in my driveway until my parents came home. I also hated Halloween as a kid because like I said, my parents are crazy, and once October hit, our house became a war zone. For instance, I would find dolls underneath my window, plastic spiders were literally everywhere, and probably the best example of this is that when I was afraid of monkeys as a kid, my dad went out and bought a full guerilla body suit and tackled me while watching TV one night.

Ah, memories.


So one weekend, we’re decorating for Halloween and my dad is encouraging me to help him with the decorations as a way to kind of overcome my fears (yay exposure therapy!). We had this really creepy old man mask that just terrified me, and every year we would grab some of my dad’s old work clothes and boots and kind of stuff this terrifying man on our front porch to act as this infernal greeter—which is funny because we lived in the middle of nowhere so we never had trick or treaters. But I digress. So I spent the day helping our creepy guest get situated on the porch, and then I got ready for school.

When I came home the next day, I noticed that my key wasn’t in my bag. My dad’s truck was in the driveway though, so I breathed a sigh of relief and walked over to the front porch, forgetting that my nemesis was there waiting for me. I can vividly see my younger self staring at this old man on the porch, and can remember telling myself that it was just a joke, that I literally stuffed him and put him together last weekend, and that there was nothing to worry about. It was fun. A Halloween joke. Everything would be fine and there was no reason why I couldn’t walk up those steps and ring that doorbell.

So I took a deep breath and ran.

I rang the doorbell once, twice.

Nothing.

So then I started knocking on the door.

Still nothing.

Eventually I walked over to the window to kind of peer inside. I started yelling for my dad because I could hear that the TV was on, so I knew he had to be around there somewhere, and then that’s when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.



At first it was subtle, something that was easy to second guess, to chalk up to fear, adrenaline. I remembered what my dad had said about conquering my fears, so I walked closer to the man, told him that he didn’t scare me, that he wasn’t real….

And that’s when my dad—who earlier had put on the mask and his old work clothes and boots and sat in that chair waiting for me to come home—jumped out, grabbed me, and nearly gave me a heart attack. I screamed, cried, and then laughed so hard because my dad looked ridiculous and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t noticed that it was him in there that whole time.

And sure, okay, this story is a little rough, maybe even borderline mean, but you have to remember that my dad and I lived to play pranks on each other when I was little (and still kind of do now, to be honest), and it was these types of scares and jokes that lead me to deeply love and appreciate Halloween and honestly helped me to conquer my fears. Truly, I could tell you a thousand stories about how afraid of everything I used to be as a kid, but by my mom and dad removing those fears and helping me to realize my strength, it allowed me to become stronger, which is why I will always think that horror is the best, most practical genre because it teaches us how to navigate life and defeat our monsters—real or imaginary.

Plus, now I can go on and scare… I mean help…other children, too.

[insert maniacal laughter here]



Trick or Treat!

Thanks for participating in our trick or treat cover reveal! RDSP is offering a postcard promo pack that will include a sticker and at least 2 postcards (not necessarily the ones pictured). To receive your promo pack email your address to us. Unfortunately we can only send promo packs to US addresses so we've also put together a printable download for anyone outside the US.

More Treats

Visit all the houses on the block to collect all the treats. Here are the current stops and treats.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

INTO THE FOREST WITH CYNTHIA PELAYO: AN INTERVIEW

Good afternoon, friends and fiends--

Today in the Madhouse, I'm welcoming back a dear friend and colleague: Cynthia Pelayo. Now I've made it no secret over the years that I'm a huge fan of her work, and I feel fortunate to have grown to know her and form a friendship with her over the years as we've worked together. 

When she told me her plans to publish a collection of poetry inspired by true crime cases, I knew I had to get my hands on it. My response to the book can be found in a review here.

With that said, I didn't feel like just reviewing this book was enough. There is a lot of pain and suffering between the pages of this collection and so I wanted to dive in a little deeper and talk to Cina about her process, her research, and her overall message of intent with this piece. As always, her answers were beautifully crafted and done so in a way that speaks to and illuminates both micro and macro-level issues happening in our country at this time. 

Read carefully and with caution.

Always,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

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

INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH is a collection of true crime poetry of missing and murdered women in the United States. The collection covers 109 cases of women ranging from days old to the elderly.

I consume a lot of true crime, probably more than is considered normal. I’m particularly interested in cases involving women and women of color. For example, here in Chicago there have been over 50 murdered women found in dumpsters, abandoned buildings, and their deaths all seem very similar leading the community to believe there is a serial killer operating in certain communities. Law enforcement dismissed this theory, but what I found so strange is that it was difficult to find the names of these women in articles or on the news. I wanted to know their names, more about them, and the moments leading up to when they went missing. 

With so many of the true crime cases that I reviewed, even before this collection, it’s often the normality around these cases that contributes to why they are so shocking. A young girl leaves church and is abducted by two men who brutalize her, kill her, wrap her in plastic and throw her from a cliff. An older woman is driving to visit family on a regular trip, stops at a gas station and is never seen again. A young woman goes missing within a block of getting off the bus heading toward her destination. Leaving church. Stopping at the gas station. Getting off the bus and walking down a block. These are all such normal activities, and in an instant these women were gone. I wanted to explore that very real danger, that very real threat — that there are awful people out there. If you don’t see them then maybe they are watching you, because that’s what happened in these cases and many more. 

In terms of literature, I wanted to create a response specific to each case that reflected the tone of the case. In some instances the poem is told from the perspective of a family member, a detective, an outsider, or the missing or murdered woman herself. I wanted to bring the reader right into this horrific moment. I wanted them to see the blood on the sweater, the missing hair tie discarded in the dirt, smell the burning tires of a car set of fire, feel the zip ties pinching a woman’s wrists, and experience the complete anguish, damage and loss to these women’s family. With the death of a person, there is resolution, even in cases of homicide when the killer has been caught, tried and imprisoned. Yet, with a missing person, or the discovery of a loved ones remains with no prosecution of the killer, there are only desperate questions. I wanted to create that emotional response with these poems; danger, fear, loss, and the manic anxiety of not knowing what happened. 

Figuratively, I wanted to make a commentary that none of us really know what people are capable of, whether they are our family or friends, or the stranger that is silently watching us in a store aisle, or behind the computer screen.

Someone did these things to these women and in many cases these people are still moving about their lives normally, and that’s a very scary thing, because there are rapists and murders living among us, next door to us or with us. There’s this unsaid belief that serial killers are gnarled, beastly, and can be identified by how they look, but that’s not true. The reason killers are able to kill, sometimes with great ease, is because they are approachable, they look “normal,” they know how to act kind, and they know how to make us laugh and how to make us feel comfortable when we are with them. That is how so many killers are able to lure their victims. There are of course killers that don’t play this game, they just come up behind you and snatch you in the street, and that doesn’t always happen in the dark, creepy alley. Sometimes it happens in the parking lot of a Target or in a playground.

We should all be concerned that if these people did this once then they are certainly capable of doing it again, and to anyone.

There’s this assumption that we are living in a society that has these rules and laws, but I do not believe we are as safe as we think we are, so literally I wanted to show that as well as figuratively as well.

This book is a highly intense and emotional read. I can’t even imagine the strength it took to write, not to mention how it must have felt to sit (and sleep) with these images time and time again. Can you talk a little about how you took care of yourself while writing this? Any little self-care tips you can share for other writers tackling similar issues in their writing?

I was not very well while I was working on this, and it’s actually now difficult for me to go back and read some of the poems. I went back and read the intro poem the other night and that was enough for me to just become so angry and just start screaming because I was so mad that I could not do more for them. So many of these women are forgotten. They were here once. Someone fed them and bathed them, and took them to school on their first day. I’m sure many of them had a favorite toy, a favorite food. They were loved. They were real. They were not imagined, but for many their names are forgotten and their cases are cold.

I spent too much time with many of them, looking at crime scene photographs, pictures of the last items many of the Jane Does wore when found. What was also hard was reading the blogs and social media pages family members maintain for these women. Some of the blogs serve as a space for the family to talk to their loved one like they are there. Others just speak to the void every few months, or few years, asking if anyone knows anything.


So with all of these emotions that I took on, this anger, hate, rage, grief, and I grieved for each and every one of them, I knew I had to step away and eat, and sleep because that was what was best for me and for them. I was telling their story and that kept me focused.

This type of writing is brutal. It’s like a reverse exorcism. You are not expelling the bad. You are taking in all of these awful things, these awful images, these awful comments and transcripts from killers. You somehow have to create a psychic shield between you and it where you are taking in all of this information, and I believe you will be changed by it, because I was. What you cannot do is allow it to harm you to the point where the work stops and you become ill.

What helped the most was talking about it. For one case, I went on for three hours just talking about it straight to my husband one night and he just looked at me and said I had to let them go for the night and sleep and move on to the next. I would get mad at him when he would do this, because I felt like I was being made to abandon these women, but I knew it was best for me to continue. So, if you are going to move into something like this please find someone you can talk to, who will not tell you to shut up, who will listen, just listen, but know when it’s the right time to delicately tell you to move on for the work and for your health.

The amount of research that had to go into this collection was, I imagine, quite immense. Can you speak to what your research process was and talk about how you selected these cases?

It was definitely intense. I started writing, and then I quickly learned I needed an Excel file, and it’s funny somehow after the book was published one of my children deleted the master Excel file I had created. It was this massive file that had the names, dates, locations, ages, genders, races, and corresponding links to these cases. I used a few missing person’s websites like The Charley Project (charleyproject.org), NamUS (namus.gov), FBI.gov, and a few others. I also listened to true crime podcasts for relevant cases or watched true crime programs or videos on YouTube. I searched through chat rooms, and went down rabbit holes of theories and blame. I’ve been slowly trying to recreate the file for my personal records.

So I stayed very organized with this project, recording a lot of demographic information and saving the websites where I found research for each case, and I would save those sites to the corresponding person in my Excel file and then go back to them and reference them as I was building the poem. A single poem could easily take me 8+ hours to write, and that included the time I needed for research on the case.

Then I wanted another device, because once I started looking at the immense number of cases it was overwhelming and I needed to focus somehow. So I decided on selecting at least one case per state. I thought that could also show everyone that this isn’t an issue isolated to one area or region. This happens everywhere. Having the Excel helped me then create some balance, because I wanted to include many women of color — since it seems women of color disproportionately go missing. I also wanted to be sure I was including younger women, the elderly, and just overall a range of women from various socio-economic backgrounds. In looking back, the cases do skew young here and I could have balanced that out better, but some of these cases were so compelling, especially so many of these children, that I had to include them.

I wanted to make sure that the majority of the cases were not high profile in that they had not been covered extensively by the true crime community. I also wanted the majority of the cases to be considered cold cases, so occurring quite some time ago, but still recent enough so that it makes an impact when thinking about it. I think the oldest case I wrote about was in the early 1970s.

There was definitely an emotional connection that I was looking for when researching and selecting the cases. I wanted something that I could connect to or that I thought strongly another woman could connect to. For example “Messaging You,” the bus stop case I mentioned previously. This was written for Le-Shay Monea N’cole Dungey. The poem is just 29 words. It’s her texting someone that she is on the bus and she is on her way. How many of us have done that? Text someone that we are on our way? Her texts stopped when she was half a block from her destination. That struck me. She text the other person that she had gotten off the bus, which was just half a block from her destination. She proceeded to walk to that destination and in that short space she disappeared.

What draws you to the mystery and true crime genre? Have you always been interested in them, or have you found yourself recently inspired? Do you have a particular case that you find yourself coming back to time and time again?

There are two cases that personally affected my parents when they were young. I can’t say too much out of respect for them and their families, but my mother’s neighbor was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and dismembered and then later placed in her own parent’s garbage can where her parents discovered her. My mother described to me in detail how she remembered the girl’s father running outside with a blanket to cover the nude, mutilated corpse of his daughter, and that description stuck with me. It was a neighbor boy who was infatuated with the girl who had killed her and was later caught.

For my father, one of his young cousins was kidnapped and never found. There are several compelling theories that the family has discussed, and because it was a high profile case I can’t say more than that unfortunately.

So, why would my parents tell me about these awful things when I was young? I think they did it as a warning, to tell me that the real monsters are people, and these monsters can and will take you away if they had the opportunity, they will hurt you, and they will kill you and no one will ever see you again. It’s uncomfortable to hear, but it’s true.

Also, I also grew up and live in Chicago, so if you name it I’ve probably seen it.

When I was in my 20s, I had a car stop in front of me as I was waiting for the bus to go to work, and a man opened the passenger side door and told me to get in. I told him some strong words, and he got in his car, drove around, came back and then got out of his car and approached me. I ran into traffic to get away from him, figuring I’d rather get hit by a car and die in the street then be taken away by a stranger.

These are just a few personal things, but it’s probably why I’m obsessed with the idea that everything can go sideways in seconds, that there are real and cruel predators out there, and these people have no conscious and know no empathy. Some people like to think that everyone is good or has the capacity to be good. I really do not believe that, and it’s controversial to say, but I just don’t believe that some people can be rehabilitated. I completely believe that there are people out there that are cold and calculated killers and nothing short of prison or their death can stop them. I once saw an interview with a child killer who killed his best friend’s daughter. He picked her up from school, lied and said her father sent him, and he even used an emergency code word the family had established that her father told him in confidence. He took the little girl to the woods and raped and killed her, and in his prison interview when asked if released if he would do it again he said he would. We can even look at infamous serial killers. Could Ted Bundy who kidnapped, raped and murdered multiple women have been rehabilitated? We know he had sex with corpses, sometimes days after killing these women. How do you rehabilitate that? I do not believe that level of deviancy can be rehabilitated.

In terms of cases I have been obsessed with, the disappearance of Diamond and Tionda Bradley in Chicago, the West Memphis Three, Madeline McCann, the Delphi Murders, LISK (Long Island Serial Killer), serial killer Israel Keyes – we may never know how many he killed, the conspiracy of the Smiley Face Killer – is it a network of killers? Just coincidence? Margaret Ellen Fox, that one really drives me nuts, and then finally the numerous missing persons cases in our national parks.

Even though the idea of missing women and children is certainly (and unfortunately) not new, this collection feels quite timely. How do you think your book speaks to current events and topics of violence and racism in the United States on both a macro and micro scale?

One of the reasons I kept putting off writing it is because I just didn’t think it was the right time, but with the global pandemic, and socio-economic-political unrest it just was the right time. To me, the female form is sacred. A woman is sacred. She is the creator of life, of all life really. So, that this being, with all its beauty and magic, a being that has the power to create life is taken by someone and murdered just seems like the greatest offense against divinity. And I speak of the male and female form throughout this interview, but I just want to stress that I recognize all genders and all truths with regard to gender and sexuality.

People kill people for a variety of reasons, but what we are seeing so much of is people killing people in this country because of anger, hate, and/or deviance. A child is shot and killed by law enforcement because he was perceived as a threat. He was only holding a toy gun. A sleeping woman had law enforcement enter her home. Law enforcement, for whatever reason, considered a sleeping woman a threat and killed her in her own bed. A man is shot and killed by law enforcement after flagging down help when his car stopped unexpectedly. He too was considered a threat. For whatever reason, these people, and many more were killed. The same can be said for the young man who walks into a church and shoots and kills worshippers. That young man, for whatever reason, deemed that those people worshipping should not exist. And in all scenarios, it appears that the killers have no empathy or sympathy for the deaths they have caused.


Regardless of what political side one is on, and I don’t want to get political in terms of left and right or conservative or liberal because we will never agree. However, what we all can agree on is that at one time there was a human and another person deemed that they had the power and the right to kill that human.

I believe as human beings we should have the right to live without fear of another human being inflicting violence on us, but we are living in a time where women fear for their safety if they leave their house and go for a walk outside. A person of color fears for their life if they go outside for a jog. In each of these cases the threat is not some monster, but another person. Human beings are the monsters outside of our door because we are seeing over and over again the level of cold cruelty people are capable of. Now, is this a problem specific to the United States? I do not know, but I do know I’ve traveled widely and when a country like Iceland only has on average one murder a year but when the US has over 15,000 murders a year we have to ask what is going on here?

With these women in the collection, there too was overwhelming evidence of rape and then murder. So, a person took another person, forcibly penetrated that person to satisfy themselves and then when they were done, when that person was used up they killed the person, discarding them. This is hard to read, but this is what happens. People use people up and discard them. People deem another person not of value and discard them.

I don’t want to ask ‘What has happened to us?’ because I feel as though we have always been this way. I feel as though we have always had a level of savagery that we try to shield with this guise of civilization, but we are not really civilized, are we? We function off a system of systemic racism, largely ignore violence against women, ignore our failing school systems, encourage the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theory, have the largest prison system in the world, a failing healthcare system, and little to no protections for families, children, and the elderly. So, who is really being protected then? The wealthy? Certainly not the lower class, or the middle class whose status could crumble with a job loss.

When we have people in power who, who also participated in using people as things, then what justice is there for those of us regular people? That’s what scares me. What protection do we really have? There’s a thin veil of protection, and we should be terrified that at any moment it will blow away, because if a man can walk into a school or movie theater or church and shoot you, and that same act is repeated elsewhere, if a woman’s child can be pulled out of her arms in the street by a stranger, if a young woman can be found raped and killed in a drainage ditch, if a girl can be held as a sex slave for days, weeks, months, or years, and if a Black man or Black woman can be shot and killed - largely assumed just for the color of their skin – and all of this without punishing the people who did it what protection do we really have? Who and what is really being protected, because we are not protecting each other.

We’re all out here floating in space with really no one to take care of us but ourselves, and if you meet one of these people – one of these monsters - one day, full of the anger, or hate, with deviance electrifying them then what are we supposed to do to protect ourselves?

So overall, on a micro level – the collection shows that these women should have been safe. They should still be here. On a macro level, the same. We should be safe. We should all be safe from harm, but I don’t believe we are as safe as we think we are.

We’ve personally talked about the obsessive spiral that can happen when diving into topics as grotesque and violent as these. It brings to mind Michelle McNamara, especially in reference to her book (and show) I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. When it comes to writing, how do you separate yourself, or unplug, from topics like this? Or, perhaps, do you find that you have to go down the rabbit hole, so to say, in order to understand your subject material?

In order to understand the material I allow it to consume me, and that’s not very healthy so I don’t recommend that for everyone. I get to a point where it becomes obsessive, and I am lucky in that I have a partner who can tell when I’ve done too much. I’ve definitely given him that license to tell me that if he sees that something is verging into the area of harm then he can tell me it’s time for me to go for a walk, get something to eat, anything, just step away and take a break.


Since there were just so many cases I had to break it down and say today I’m going to focus on this many cases and that helped give myself a time limit. It was hard, because there were some cases I would research for three or four hours, go to bed and wake up and research them again. So some cases threw me off the schedule of where I wanted to be, and for just a few words of a poem, but all of that research allowed me then to include clues and details that maybe the average reader will never know, but I know it’s there and that’s important. For example, someone may think in the poem “Home Was So Close” that the line “Or within that space of Pins or Keyes” has a typo, but it’s suspected in some circles that Suzanne Gloria Lyall, whom went missing and whom the poem is written for, was the victim of serial killer Israel Keyes (whom I could go on for far too long talking about). Keyes did kill himself so we’ll never know. So, there’s a lot of that throughout the collection, a lot of detail that I really wanted to capture, even though a regular reader may not pick up on it, like a crime scene there are many details there.

Who are some of your favorite writers when it comes to mystery and true crime? Are there certain podcasts that you find yourself listening to regularly?

What’s great about true crime is that it’s a field filled with a lot of investigative journalists, and maybe they are not investigative journalists in the traditional sense, maybe they are more Truman Capote In Cold Blood, but still, these people are great at researching these cases. I really enjoyed Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas, and a lot of Douglas’ other works. Others include The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, not so much because I’m fascinated with the actual crime committed, but I’m fascinated by the hold that Manson held over his followers, and not just his followers, but his own thinking, his constant declarations that regardless if he was in prison he was free because his mind allowed to escape confinement, and Devil’s Knot because I had a very unhealthy obsession with the West Memphis Three case for a while, unhealthy because I researched this case in and out for days, weeks, and months, and just needed to stop.

For podcasts – Crime Junkie, The Vanished, Park Predators, Down the Hill, Up and Vanished, Wine and Crime, True Crime Fan Club and so many others. There’s probably way more that I’m not thinking about. As you can see my true crime obsession is probably a little much.

What books are currently sitting in your TBR pile?

You should see the towering books on my desk. I’d send you a picture, but it’s such a mess, and I’m serious, these are all of the books next to me:

  • The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock
  • Hurricane Season, Fernanda Melchor
  • Thin Places, Kay Chronister
  • Crossroads, Laurel Hightower
  • Yellow Jessamine, Caitlin Starling
  • Tender is the Flesh, Augustina Maria Bazterrica
  • A Stab in the Dark, Facundo Bernal

What’s next in store for your readers?

I have a few fiction things that are a little all over the place. The main thing I’m trying to finalize this year is setting up my old works, from like 2010 – 2014, so that they are available again. I don’t think many writers will say they don’t like their older works, and it’s not that I don’t like my older works, it’s just that I am a completely different writer today. Still, I owe my past self to make them public again. So they will all be public again, and I suppose the readers can decide what value those works have.


My most important fiction work is CHILDREN OF CHICAGO, a hybrid horror and thriller novel being released by Polis/Agora February 2021. It’s the novel I’ve dreamed about writing for a decade, and I felt like I finally had the right voice to write it. It includes everything I love, Chicago, Chicago history, folklore, fairy tales, and a bogeyman – not one that I created, but an adapted bogeyman in the Pied Piper. It’s the type of writing that I hope I can continue doing in the future.

In terms of poetry, I have another nagging idea that I think I will start writing when things quiet down a bit. It’s funny, my poetry projects have been like that, it’s quiet for a while and then I hear this shouting and this panic in my head that I have to tell this story. POEMS OF MY NIGHT was like that. There was a panic to get it down on paper, because it was really my dad’s story and our family’s story. INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH came about from just seeing this continual injustice of missing and murdered women and I had to light this fire and show people that there is a huge problem with who we are, and with humanity if we continue to ignore these crimes. This other idea I have is similar in that it’s another shouting from the void, so maybe I need to get it down, because otherwise it will not stop.

Beyond that, another novel in the Chicago series, and hopefully something else soon I promised I would do for my son. Send me fairy dust and good wishes.

What advice do you have for writers working in nonfiction and/or poetry?

When it comes to nonfiction do not feel guilty for getting lost in the research. It’s your job to get lost in the research. I uncovered so many cases that I knew very little about or nothing beforehand and with this research I was able to learn about them and write about them.

For poetry, my best advice is to read your poems out loud twice. Craft it, edit it, and read it out loud. How does it sound? Read it out loud again. Do the words have as much meaning on the page when read to yourself as they do when you read them out loud? If so, you made music and music will touch someone emotionally and that is a very powerful gift. 

Author Bio:

Cynthia “Cina” Pelayo is the author of SANTA MUERTE, THE MISSING, LOTERIA, POEMS OF MY NIGHT, INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH, and the upcoming CHILDREN OF CHICAGO by Agora/Polis Books. Pelayo is an International Latino Book Award winning author and an Elgin Award nominee. She lives in Chicago with her family.

You can find/follow her via:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cinapelayo

Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/cinapelayoauthor/?hl=en

Website: cinapelayo.com