Monday, April 24, 2017


Good morning, good morning!

Today in the MADHOUSE, we have Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, the twin sister writing team from Arizona who has since been dubbed the Sisters of Slaughter for their horror stories. They have been published by Sinister Grin Press and Fireside Press, and they have a novel coming soon through Bloodshot Books. Their novel, Mayan Blue, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and in the spirit of Stoker season, I wanted to check in with them and find out the behind-the-scenes scoop about their book.

WYTOVICH: Tell us about the novel. How was collaborating on this project?

GARZA/LASON: We started writing together when we were little girls, so it comes naturally to us to work on stories together. We both have notebooks that we keep story ideas, snippets of stories, and even just titles for stories we want to write in the future. We outline everything before we jump into writing, it keeps us on track and is helpful when we're apart to go back and look at. Most of everything is written by hand first. It creates a rough draft that can be changed as we type it up. Mayan Blue was our debut novel, so we really wanted to have a unique story, and the inspiration came for it from Melissa watching a television show about how people believe the Mayans may have migrated into the southern parts of the United States. We were intrigued by it and decided to make it into a horror novel. We also wanted to write something that felt like watching some of those classic horror movies with some of our love for mythology mixed into it.

Book SummaryXibalba, home of torture and sacrifice, is the kingdom of the lord of death. He stalked the night in the guise of a putrefied corpse, with the head of an owl and adorned with a necklace of disembodied eyes that hung from nerve cords. He commanded legions of shapeshifting creatures, spectral shamans, and corpses hungry for the flesh of the living. The Mayans feared him and his realm of horror. He sat atop his pyramid temple surrounded by his demon kings and demanded sacrifices of blood and beating hearts as tribute to him and his ghostly world. These legends, along with those that lived in fear of them, have been dead and gone for centuries. Yet now, a doorway has been opened in Georgia. A group of college students seek their missing professor, a man who has secretly uncovered the answer to one of history’s greatest mysteries. However, what they find is more than the evidence of a hidden civilization. It’s also a gateway to a world of living nightmares.

WYTOVICH: As a writer, what is your preferred form to tell a story? Why?

GARZA/LASON: We love to write, whether it's longer stories or short tales, but each have their own pros and cons. Short stories have to encompass the important elements of the plot in fewer words. Often, the need to add too much backstory can bog down the pace. Finding the correct beginning is also challenging. We like to start where the action begins and elude to backstory. Novels are a whole different creature. They have to incorporate that action, which drives the story along with those morsels of backstory so your audience feels like your characters are real and they become emotionally invested in knowing how the story ends. This is where we advocate outlines. It keeps us following along the path of unfolding the story, and it just helps us. Some people don't use outlines and that's fine if that approach works for them.

WYTOVICH: Who are some of your influences in the genre?

GARZA/LASON: Some of our influences are Brian Keene, Clive Barker, Shirley Jackson, Ronald Kelly and Robert R. McCammon.

WYTOVICH: What is your origin story? What drew you to horror in the first place?

GARZA/LASON: We've always loved spooky stuff. Halloween has always been our favorite holiday because in Arizona it marks the death of dreadful summers, and our mom always made it so much fun with homemade costumes and baked goodies. She got us into horror by allowing us to watch old scary movies with her, and our father reinforced our fixation on ghosts and monsters by telling us scary stories around campfires. Some kids get into dinosaurs or spaceships, but for us it was everything dealing with monsters. Werewolves have always been our favorite monster since we watched the original wolfman. We were just creepy little kids who grew up to be creepy adults.

WYTOVICH: What’s sitting in your TBR pile these days?

GARZA/LASON: Melissa is doing a re-read of the Dark Tower. Michelle is getting ready to read Song of the Death God by William Holloway. I also have to mention that I read Like Jagged Teeth by Betty Rocksteady and it was really awesome!

WYTOVICH: Where do you think the horror genre is presently sitting at in the market? What do you think the next big trend is going to be?

GARZA/LASON: Horror is on the rise again and will never die. It may not be as popular in actual bookstores, but it's probably because most of it is labeled differently now. Ebooks provide horror fans with unlimited access to great books, and they give writers the chance to connect with readers who might dig their work. Zombies have been big for years and appear to still do well. There has also been a surge of aquatic horror, deep sea monsters, and enormous sharks, which to us are absolutely terrifying because the ocean is a creepy place to begin with and just imagining what lurks beneath the waves is really scary. We would like to see horror make a huge commercial comeback where books can once again be named as such and have people embrace it fully without masking it as "safer" genres.

WYTOVICH: What can your readers look forward to on the horizon?

GARZA/LASON: We have a novel coming out in July through Bloodshot Books called Those Who Follow.

WYTOVICH: What’s one thing about you that you think your readers would be surprised to know?

GARZA/LASON: We also enjoy writing sci-fi and fantasy! We love getting lost in many different worlds.

WYTOVICH: If you could give one piece of advice to writers, what would it be and why?

GARZA/LASON: Don't give up on your writing. You can always work on improving your craft, but don't stop. Also, don't compare your writing or success to that of others.

Monday, April 10, 2017


Hello Fiendish Friends!

Today in the MADHOUSE, we have author Nicole Cushing, who was kind enough to stop by for a chat to discuss her Bram Stoker award-nominated novella, The Sadist's Bible. For those of you unfamiliar with Cushing's work, she is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of Mr. Suicide She has also written the Stoker-nominated short story collection The Mirrors and three stand-alone novellas (including the Shirley Jackson Award nominated Children of No One and the Stoker-nominated The Sadist’s Bible). 

Various reviewers have described her work as “brutal,” “cerebral,” “transgressive,” “taboo,” “groundbreaking,” and “mind-bending.” This Is Horror has said that she is “quickly becoming a household name for horror fans.” She has also garnered praise from Jack Ketchum, Rue Morgue, Thomas Ligotti, John Skipp, S.T. Joshi, Poppy Z. Brite, Ray Garton, Famous Monsters of Filmland, and Ain’t It Cool News.

So strap yourself in and bite down on your bit. We’re about to get sadistic. 
With horns and fire,
Stephanie M. Wytovich 

WYTOVICH: Tell us about the novella. What inspired you to write the story?

CUSHING: The Sadist’s Bible is the story of a closeted, depressed Bible Belt lesbian (Ellie) who meets a young, troubled bisexual woman (Lori) online. The two form a suicide pact, and plan to meet at a luxury hotel where they’ll first have sex and then kill themselves. But Lori has a few dangerous secrets, and she ends up leading Ellie into a collision with a hideous supernatural realm and the entity who presides over it.

The book was inspired by a nightmarish daydream I had in New Orleans a few years back--a sort of vision (for lack of a better word) of a hideous supernatural realm. My imagination just boils over sometimes, and I often feel compelled to explore these experiences in fiction.

WYTOVICH: Can you talk a little bit about your writing process? What do you find is the hardest and easiest part of the craft?

CUSHING: I start each day by printing out the last five pages of my work in progress. I edit them with a pen and then make the changes in the Google Docs file. Then I start writing new words for as long as time and energy allow. I edit a lot as I write. I research a lot as I write. I wish I could make it sound more exotic, but that’s about it.

What do I find hardest? Writing for themed anthologies. Too often, it’s a struggle because I find the theme constraining. It takes me a long time to finish those sorts of stories, because they have to both address the theme and satisfy me. (I never want to half-ass a story or phone it in.) For this reason, I’ve said no to a number of anthology invitations this year. In the end, they’re just not worth the time-suck.

What do I find easiest? To paraphrase Bugs Bunny, I think I’m pretty good at acknowledging when a work-in-progress has made a wrong turn at Albuquerque. As a result, I’m merciless when it comes to cutting my own manuscript. I have no problem with throwing ten or twenty or thirty thousand words into the scrap heap if I have to. I’m focused on making the book as strong as it can be, and sometimes that means frankly acknowledging where things have gone amiss.

WYTOVICH: As a writer, what is your preferred form to tell a story? Why?

CUSHING: More and more, I’m drawn to writing novels. I like working on a relatively large canvas. It’s like playing in a big backyard instead of playing in a small one.

WYTOVICH: Who are some of your influences in the genre?

CUSHING: Thomas Ligotti is a huge influence, and has been for a while. Jack Ketchum, too.

Recently, though, I’ve been learning a lot by reading the novels and literary criticism of Milan Kundera. (Not a genre writer at all, but a writer of so-called literary fiction.) I think I can safely say that his work is influencing my novel-in-progress.

WYTOVICH: What is your origin story? What drew you to horror in the first place?
CUSHING: How old were you when you first touched a dead body? I was six. I think that explains a lot.

WYTOVICH: What’s sitting in your TBR pile these days?

CUSHING: O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, Testaments Betrayed by Milan Kundera, and Edgar Allan Poe’s Petersburg: The Untold Story of The Raven in the Cockade City by Jeffrey Abugel. (The latter is a work of local history discussing Poe’s trip to Petersburg, Virginia. I picked it up in the gift shop of the Poe Museum in Richmond.)

WYTOVICH: Where do you think the horror genre is presently sitting at in the market? What do you think the next big trend is going to be?

CUSHING: The best answer I can give you is that I don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone really does. In any event,  I don’t think about such things very much. After all, I can’t control them. All I can control is writing the very best books I can.

WYTOVICH: What can your readers look forward to on the horizon?

CUSHING: The snazzy, illustrated paperback edition of The Sadist’s Bible is coming soon. It should be available by the end of April. (I just got my first author copy recently, and I love the look and feel of it.)

I’m also revising a novelette for an anthology. (This is last anthology invite story left on my to do list before I can focus exclusively on my novel. Speaking of the novel, I’m pretty far along with it, too. But I’m not sure when, exactly, I’ll finish it.

WYTOVICH: If you could give one piece of advice to writers, what would it be and why?

CUSHING: If you write horror, don’t just read horror. Read any book that concerns itself with psychological darkness. Focus especially on those books that have stood the test of time. Read Dostoevsky, Henry Miller, Leonid Andreyev, Mário de Sá-Carneiro, and the French Decadents. These are the patron saints of madness and squalor. They all have a great deal to teach an aspiring author of dark fiction. Why not learn from the best?

Upcoming Appearances:
Twitter: @nicolecushing

Sunday, April 2, 2017


Hello Dear Ones,

Today in the MADHOUSE, I have the pleasure of sitting down to chat with one of my professors from graduate school, Tim Waggoner. I've known Tim since about 2011, back when I had first started in Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction Program, and since then, we've traveled near and far together, danced at the Lovecraft Bar in Portland, and shared many, many laughs, not to mention great conversation with each other.

For those of you unfamiliar with Waggoner and his work, he has published over thirty novels and three short story collections, and his work has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Scribe Award. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio, and previously, was a mentor in Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction Program. Readers can find him on the web at, and truthfully, I can't recommend his work enough.

Below is a interview regarding his Bram Stoker award-nominated novella, The Winter Box. Pick up a copy here today, and enjoy the flow of conversation below!

With blood-soaked snowflakes,
Stephanie M. Wytovich
WYTOVICH: Tell us about the novella The Winter Box. What inspired you to write it?

WAGGONER: I use the notepad function on my phone to jot down ideas, words, and images that spark my imagination. When I’m starting a writing project, I’ll sometimes go through the list and use one of those ideas as inspiration, but by the time I use it, I often don’t remember where it came from! That’s what happened with The Winter Box. I have no memory of where the phrase came from. But I like it when this happens because it gives my imagination the freedom to conjure up whatever it wants instead of being bound to the original inspiration. I live in Ohio, and we’d had an extremely bitter winter that year, so I decided to use that as a setting, since it fulfilled the winter part. When writing fiction, I usually bring together several different ideas to make a whole. In this case, I’d had the idea of a couple haunted by the ghost of their dead relationship, so I decided to use that. Then I asked myself what the box would be and how it would relate to this couple, and I was off and writiing!

WYTOVICH: Can you talk a little bit about your writing process? What do you find is the hardest and easiest part of the craft?

WAGGONER: I’m often inspired by the weird things I see and hear every day. I like the idea that strange things occur around us all the time, just on the edge of our awareness, and I use that in a lot of my fiction. I talked about how I combine several different ideas to create a story in my answer to the last question. Once I start writing, I like to use an immersive point of view to draw readers into the story. I think that technique works great for any kind of fiction, but it works especially well for horror fiction, which is all about a character’s perception and emotional reaction to bizarre events. In terms of mechanics, sometimes I’ll write longhand and then type the text into my laptop later. I often do this for short stories. Sometimes I’ll compose on the computer (especially when the deadline is short!). I spend a lot of time visualizing scenes in my head, imagining dialogue and character emotions, so when I sit down to compose text, it usually comes fairly fast and doesn’t need a lot of editing. The easiest part of the craft for me is dialogue. I can write characters interacting through dialogue all day, almost effortlessly. The hardest part for me is writing action sequences. They require every move to be visualized in specific detail, and then you have to find the words to communicate those details to readers.

WYTOVICH: As a writer, what is your preferred form to tell a story? Why?

WAGGONER: I prefer the novel form. I tend to have big ideas and I love to explore the ramifications of them and to find connections between different story threads as I write. Novel writing is the only thing that makes me feel as if I’m using my entire self. Writing short stories has always felt awkward to me. It makes my brain cramp! But I’ve worked hard over the years to get better at the form. Writing novellas is challenging because sometimes you need to use short story techniques, sometimes novel techniques, and sometimes fusions of the two. That makes it the most creatively interesting – and challenging – form, I think. Horror tends to work really well at novella length, too.

WYTOVICH: How do you know when something is finished and ready to be sent out for publication consideration?

WAGGONER: When I get sick of working on it or when the deadline hits, whichever comes first! Seriously, though, I’m never sure if something is ever really ready. You can keep making changes to a story forever, but you have to let the work go sometime. As the years have gone by, and I’ve published a lot of fiction, I’ve developed a sense of what editors and readers respond to, and I try to use that as my guide as to when something is ready to go out.

WYTOVICH: Who are some of your influences in the genre?

WAGGONER: I loved horror movies as a kid and watched all the ones I could. This was before VCR’s and movie rentals, so I watched whatever I could find on TV. The first movie I remember watching was Frankenstein vs the Wolf Man with my parents when I was four. I loved horror comics, too, and read all the ones I could get my hands on. Some of them were quite bloody, and I’m grateful that my parents didn’t censor what I read! I loved Famous Monsters of Filmland, too, and devoured every issue. I discovered Stephen King in seventh grade when a friend told me about this horror book about vampires that he was reading, and I knew I had to check it out. By that point I’d read Richard Matheson’s I am Legend and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, so I was more than ready to start reading King. I continued reading King, but I also read science fiction and fantasy – anything that stimulated my imagination. I got into comics, too, and one of the things I really like about the form was that it combined tropes from different genres. One month Spiderman might battle mobsters, the next month aliens, and vampires the month after that. This cross-genre approach eventually found its way into my fiction. Other specific influences in the horror field are Clive Barker, Shirley Jackson, Dennis Etchison, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Ramsey Campbell, Charlee Jacob, Charles L. Grant, Harlan Ellison, and so many others . . .

WYTOVICH: What is your origin story? What drew you to horror in the first place?

WAGGONER: Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve always loved horror. I guess it started with learning about dinosaurs when I was very young. I was fascinated with the idea that these giant monsters were real and that they lived in the same place I did, only many millions of years ago – and the only way we could see them today was as skeletons. They were – are still are – perfect monsters to capture the imagination. I loved them so much that I memorized the shape of their names so I could recognize them in books even though I couldn’t read yet. One of my earliest dreams I remember was of a flying saucer landing on our street and releasing a number of dinosaurs. I guess I was combining genres even back then!

WYTOVICH: What’s sitting in your TBR pile these days?

WAGGONER: My TBR pile is more like a mountain! But a few selections: Steve Rasnic Tem’s Ubo, Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People, Stephen King’s Desperation, Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes, and Alison Littlewood’s Quieter Paths.

WYTOVICH: Where do you think the horror genre is presently sitting at in the market? What do you think the next big trend is going to be?

WAGGONER: Horror is strong in the small-press, and it has an increasing presence in literary and mainstream fiction. So many of the genre’s tropes have found their way into popular culture that horror’s almost in danger of becoming respectable! I think the next big trend is going to come from young people who grew up obsessed with games like Five Nights at Freddy’s or watching bizarre YouTube series like Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. These works deal with paranoid glimpses into what lies just behind the veneer of what seems to be ordinary, even mundane reality. We might see hybrid forms, too, with some elements of a story appearing as text, some as video, some as interactive media, etc.

WYTOVICH: What can your readers look forward to on the horizon?

WAGGONER: My new novella A Kiss of Thorns was recently released, and The Men of Letters Bestiary: the Winchester Family Edition, will be out in September. I’ll be doing a new novelization that will be out in fall as well, but I can’t talk about it yet.

WYTOVICH: If you could give one piece of advice to writers, what would it be?

WAGGONER: Write what matters to you, and make sure there’s a piece of yourself in every word you write.

Friday, March 31, 2017


Greetings Poets!

My poem, "Of My Wounds, There Are Many" has been nominated for the Rhysling Award through the Science Fiction Poetry Association. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the award, here is a little background information, via the SFPA's website: "The Rhysling Awards are named for the blind poet Rhysling in Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “The Green Hills of Earth.” Rhysling’s skills were said to rival Rudyard Kipling’s. In real life, Apollo 15 astronauts named a crater near their landing site “Rhysling,” which has since become its official name." Hearing that my work has been nominated for this award is a truly humbling experience, and I feel blessed to be nominated alongside such wonderful poets. I'm very much looking forward to the anthology this year.

For interested parties, please see my poem below, which was first published in Sanitarium Magazine.This poem was heavily inspired by the "Wound Man," an illustration which surfaced in early European surgical texts in the Middle Ages. Surgeons used this drawing as an anatomical guide to injuries. Some of you might even recognize the interpretation of it that Hannibal used during one of his many musings.

Of My Wounds, There Are Many
By Stephanie M. Wytovich

Snapshot to blood and bone,
there’s a knife in my head,
but my migraine was two years in the making,
stitched to the side of my skull
like the arrow tip lodged behind my eye,
buried in my brain like the bruises
of last night’s thunder storm,
my teeth ripped from my mouth,
shoved down my throat
like how the sky pushes out rain.

Of my wounds, there are many:
see the delicate stigmata cut into my hands and feet,
the gashes dug into my thighs, the tally-mark slashes on my wrists;
I am the punctured female, the pincushion of hysteria,
a traumatized sack of feminine injury,
the flesh of my flesh, the scar of my scar,
I’m a collection of lesions and lacerations,
a patchwork of black and blue contusions
worn out from where you scrubbed me raw,
beat me till I seeped red like rare, woman steak.

Look to me on this table as I bleed and break,
a toy of operation, a surgical muse to the amputation
of bodily consciousness: hear me when I say I feel nothing,
that with each incision and penetration, I am dead,  
gone from this world of torment and torture,
a disappearance, an acceptance to oblivion,
to the land where I can forget the flower,
the blossom of what I saw lies underneath.

Yes, use my soon-to-be-corpse as a nametag,
as a placard to the other girls who are destined to bleed;
I am closing my eyes to your knives now,
deafening myself to the fractures you inflict;
I will cease to be your canvas of mutilation,
Only a head, a torso, a heart,
best to photograph me while in transition;
it’s the last chance you’ll have
to tray and locate my soul.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Greeting Apocalyptic Ones,

Today in the MADHOUSE, I'm having a chat with one of my favorite poets, Jeannine Hall Gailey. I first read Gailey a year or so ago when I picked up The Robot Scientist's Daughter and was blown away (ha--get it? Nuclear-blast humor?) by her ability to weave science and fact into her poetry in a way that I not only enjoyed, but understood as well. To me, she was like the cool science teacher I always wanted, but never had as she was able to educate/entertain me through her verse and turn of phrase in a way where I had fun learning, and was still enamored and immersed in the art. Her work is satirical at times, and dark at others, and after reading her latest collection Field Guide to the End of the World, my fandom (and respect for her) only increased.

For those unfamiliar with Gailey, she served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington and is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to theFloating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist's Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, the winner of the Moon City Book Prize. Her web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @webbish6.

Now pack your disaster bags and open a can of baked beans. It's time to hear about the end of the world.

With a radiation-like glow,
Stephanie M. Wytovich
WYTOVICH: Tell us about your collection Field Guide to the End of the World. What inspired you to write it?

GAILEY: I started writing this collection thinking about the humorous side of survival. I was living in California when I began writing these poems, where you’re constantly aware of potential disasters – fire, earthquakes, mudslides. There are reverse 911 calls in some parts of California which you might have five minutes to get out of your house with all your stuff and pets, and you have to have a kit prepared with which you’re supposed to dig yourself out of rubble or whatever (CA’s suggestions for the kit included a wheelbarrow – like we could fit one in our tiny one-bedroom apartment!) One of our apartments burned to the ground a year after we moved out, and the other was severely damaged in an earthquake two years after we moved out. So I think that made me start thinking about how to prepare for the worst. Plus, as I was writing, part of the time I was dealing with a neurological crisis that put me in a wheelchair for a few years and had me managing memory and motor skill problems, then later, right around the time when it was accepted for publication, I was diagnosed with metastasized cancer. So then I was struggling with real life-or-death issues – which got woven into the book, the poems about contemplating death and how to best live on borrowed time.

This all probably makes it sound like a much grimmer book than it actually is! I’m a naturally optimistic person, and I loved the idea of playing “apocalypse with a sense of humor” games – Martha Stewart’s guide to apocalypse living, or imagining an apocalyptic version of the Anthropologie catalog. Just having fun with some of the “comfort/shelter” tropes in American culture right now, the idea of cozily sitting down to a fire where you’re eating the last of the rationed food, or raiding hotel mini-cars and coffee shops for sustenance.

WYTOVICH: Can you talk a little bit about your writing process? What do you find is the hardest and easiest part of the craft?

GAILEY: I write a lot, and I’ve been writing poetry on a regular basis since I was a kid. I’m not a person with a schedule for writing, or a problem with writer’s block, though I don’t always love the editing/revising process – it’s harder and longer, and I’ve got a short attention span! I’ve been playing around with the personal essay and fiction pieces, and course my poetry toolkit doesn’t always fit for those kinds of genres, so I’m kind of in a “learning” place with that stuff right now, which is challenging but interesting. I like pushing boundaries between genres – prose poems, Japanese forms, speculative work that is maybe a little outside the norms.

WYTOVICH: How do you know when a poem is finished and ready to be sent out for publication consideration?

GAILEY: I don’t! I’m literally one of those people who continues revising poems right up until book publication, and even after – I’ll be reading for a book, and saying “Oh, that word isn’t exactly right – that word cut be cut,” etc. I take a leap of faith that poems are ready and send them out on a regular basis. If they come back a lot, I may take them out of circulation, or cut them up, or if I think they’re good, just keep sending them out. 

WYTOVICH: Do you write outside of the poetry genre? If so, what, and where are some places readers can find your work?

GAILEY: I’ve written a couple of personal essays. I’ve been writing poetry book reviews for over a decade (I regularly contribute to The Rumpus and other outlets.) I’ve published some flash fiction over the years (I think Fiction Southeast might have some of my most recent flash fiction work.)

WYTOVICH: Who are some of your influences in poetry?

GAILEY: My earliest influences were writers like T.S. Eliot and e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay. In college, I discovered Louise Gluck, Margaret Atwood, Lucille Clifton, Dorianne Laux, and Denise Duhamel, all of whom gave me a sense of freedom to mess around with alternate storytelling from a female perspective.

WYTOVICH: What is your origin story? What drew you to poetry (or H/SF/F) in the first place?

GAILEY: I think my poetry has always fallen into the speculative realm – when I started turning in poems about superheroines and Ovid/Grimm’s re-tellings during my MA workshop classes, I’m not sure all the professors were totally down with it, but it was really a reflection of my interior interests – and that I’ve always really identified with outsiders and mutants. Great characters in comic books and fairy tales, heroines who struggle against odds and don’t necessarily have happy endings, but survival, in mind. 

WYTOVICH: What’s sitting in your TBR pile these days?

GAILEY: I’m working on a review of Marie Howe’s Magdalene for The Rumpus. I’m so impressed how she works with persona (in this case, Mary Magdalene) and how she makes the mundane poetic and melancholy. She really is a poetry heroine. I’m also reading Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook for the first time. I’ve read some of her more speculative work, but not this.

WYTOVICH: Where do you think the H/SF/F genre is presently sitting at in the market? What do you think the next big trend is going to be?

GAILEY: I’m expecting much more crossover between “high” and “low” culture as younger people become the main audiences for literature. The artificial distinctions are already starting to break down, and I think the upcoming generation of ysoung people won’t have the snobbery towards the sci-fi-fantasy genre that previous generations did. Writers are proud of their geek heritage these days. It’s more inclusive. I like it.
WYTOVICH: What can your readers look forward to on the horizon?

GAILEY: I’ve just completed (gulp) a new poetry manuscript about my experiences being diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live, and then outliving the diagnosis, and then outliving it some more. I’ll start shopping it around to publishers soon! There are also some (double gulp) more political poems in the mix, which I guess is inevitable with the current stuff going on.

WYTOVICH: If you could give one piece of advice to poets, what would it be?

GAILEY: Persist. Persist and be your own weird, unique self. Even if it isn’t everyone’s taste immediately, audiences may catch up down the road. When I started sending out superhero poems, almost no one was doing them – then a few years ago, there was an entire, healthy-sized anthology of superhero poems published by Minor Arcana Press, and I was so happy to be at one of its launch readings at AWP Seattle, watching tons of poets I admired reading superhero poems out loud. So much fun. If you feel alone and you’re doing something new with your work, well, you’re probably doing something right. And others will eventually catch on.

Monday, March 13, 2017


Hello Dark Ones,

Today in the MADHOUSE, I'm pleased to host friend and colleague, Michael Bailey. I met Michael a couple years ago at World Horror, and recently had the pleasure of working with him on Chiral Mad 3, published through Written Backwards. Michael is a stand-up guy, a wonderful editor, and he (and his lovely wife) are even willing to put up with drunk Necon phone calls from me (thanks Gard! ha!).

For those of you who aren't familiar with Bailey, he is the multi-award-winning author of PALINDROME HANNAH, PHOENIX ROSE and PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON (novels), SCALES AND PETALS and INKBLOTS AND BLOOD SPOTS (short story / poetry collections), and editor of PELLUCID LUNACY and the CHIRAL MAD anthologies. His books have been recognized by the International Book Awards, National Best Book Awards, Independent Publisher Book Awards, the USA News “Best Book” Awards, the London Book Festival, ForeWord Reviews’ Book of the Year, This is Horror Anthology of the Year, the Indie Book Awards, and the Eric Hoffer Award. His short fiction and poetry can be found in anthologies and magazines around the world, including the US, UK, Australia, Sweden and South Africa. 

Below, we'll be chatting about Chiral Mad 3 and 4, and learning about the driving force behind his Bram Stoker award-nominated story, "Time is a Face on the Water."

With madness,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

WYTOVICH: Tell us about the story “Time is a Face on the Water.” What inspired you to write it?

BAILEY: As you drive north from Napa up highway 121, you pass old towns like St. Helena, Calistoga, and eventually Nights Valley (where this is no town, and where we lived for a few years), and as you continue north the trees grow taller, the landscapes greener, the vineyards older, and the wine more expensive. It’s a heavily-geothermal and -volcanic area, with a petrified forest, active geysers, and hot springs (hence the good wine). We were fortunate enough to live in probably one of the most beautiful parts of California, and that’s where this story takes place. Every winter the creek in our backyard would rush and every fall it would trickle, and along the beds grape vines as thick as forearms and older than all of us combined reached skyward and clung to the trees: redwoods, firs, bays, a mix of oaks; and likewise great California Oaks clung to the ground, their branches like arthritic knuckles, their trunks as big as Volkswagen buses, Spanish moss hanging off their branches and to the ground like 80’s rock band hair. But what I will always remember most about this place was the canopy of grapevines above the creek, leaves turning throughout the year from green to yellow to red to brown and eventually falling (waltzing for a bit in the air) before landing in the water, where they’d be carried off in a slow death parade downstream. The creek was where I’d go to relax, to reflect, and it was always like time slowed (or perhaps even stopped). That place would put me in a trance, and that’s where I got the idea for “Time is a Face on the Water,” a story about loss, and about the unforgiving passing of time. The final call for the latest volume of Borderlands also helped. The night before submissions were to be postmarked, I told Kelly I needed to write, and she said okay, and she fell asleep leaning next to me while overnight I cranked out this 5,001-word short story (Tom Monteleone had a strict 5,000-word limit, which I of course had to break; I even typed “5,001 words” on the front page before sending it to him).

WYTOVICH: Can you talk a little bit about your writing process? What do you find is the hardest and easiest part of the craft?

BAILEY: Like the subject of the story mentioned above, time gives me the most trouble. I don’t have a lot of time to write because of my day job (the one that pays the bills), and my commute (where I do most of my reading now via audio books), and of course the anthologies and various book projects I work on here and there for both Written Backwards and Dark RegionsPress. It’s impossible to make time, because time is always there, so it’s a matter of finding and using it wherever and whenever I can, such as the all-night-write-a-thon, or on a weekend where I might find myself alone. I’ll go for months without writing, years even, and then I’ll somehow find time for my own work and will crank out 5,000 or 10,000 or 20,000 words in a matter of days, and then, like most trees in the winter, I’ll go dormant and not produce any leaves/pages for what I consider extremely long periods of time. So I guess the actual writing is the easiest part of the craft for me, and I do it in spurts. I don’t write a lot of fiction, but when I do, readers seem to like it. And I don’t usually spend a lot of time revising or rewriting my own work (I seem to do that much more now as I’m writing, ‘editing on the go’, in other words, perhaps because I spend so much time editing others’ work), so I’ll only take a second or third pass at a story before sending it off, and then I’m done with it.

WYTOVICH: As a writer, what is your preferred form to tell a story? Why?

BAILEY: I wrote my first novel, Palindrome Hannah, without ever tackling anything shorter, although both that novel and my second, Phoenix Rose, are more nonlinear meta-novels than they are traditional novels, each made up of five interconnecting novelette- or novella-length works. And my third novel, Psychotropic Dragon (still in the works) is basically a novelette wrapped around a novella wrapped around a short novel. So I guess my preferred form is long fiction. Even when I write short fiction lately, I have a difficult time keeping it under 7,500 words, and when I attempt short fiction, it usually ends up closer to the 5,000-word mark or longer. And I usually have poetry buried in the work somewhere; poetry is a great way to write something powerful using fewer words, and I find that fascinating. One compliment I’ve had with my novels is that they can be read in spurts (there’s that word again), each section/part easily read in an hour or so, which I feel is a healthy amount of time to spend reading, and having a book structured this way makes an 80,000 to 100,000-word book seem less daunting, or less prone to be set aside and left forgotten. The reader feels accomplished, perhaps, having read an entire section/part in one sitting. Too many times I’ve gotten into a book, and then have become distracted somehow (life does this to us), the book not picked up again for perhaps weeks, months. And once I find the time to crack the spine again I find myself lost in the story the opposite way a reader should be lost in a story. The world is full of distractions, so the 10,000- to 20,000-word range is perfect for healthy reading, in my opinion … as well as short novels (which, for some reason, are not considered marketable per the current industry standard, which is a bunch of crap). Bookshelves are basically trophy cases for our reading accomplishments, yet how many of our trophies are unwarranted? How many books on our shelves go unread, or unfinished?

WYTOVICH: Who are some of your influences in the genre?

BAILEY: Those who took me in under their wings in the early stages, taught me the rules of flying, and then pushed me out of the tree to see if I’d survive: Thomas F. Moneteleone, F. Paul Wilson, Douglas E. Winter; and those who encourage me to continue flapping: Jack Ketchum, Gary A. Braunbeck, Mort Castle, many others.

WYTOVICH: What is your origin story? What drew you to horror in the first place?

BAILEY: I started reading Edgar Allan Poe when I was thirteen, then moved onto Ray Bradbury, and eventually Michael Crichton. Their work sometimes crossed into horror. Those three, and probably Stephen King, were my gateway drugs into horror. Outside of horror, my drug of choice is David Mitchell; he’s responsible for my interest in writing, and most recently his own works have branched into both science fiction and horror (Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks, Slade House).

WYTOVICH: You’re working on the fourth installment of the Chiral Mad series now. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you with the project in the first place and where you see it going in the future?

BAILEY: The goal was for Chiral Mad 3 to end the series; that of course was after not fulfilling a promise to never do sequels, thanks to Chiral Mad 2. I thought, Let’s go out big with this series, get this third and final volume illustrated throughout by someone like Glenn Chadbourne (who ended up creating 45 illustrations total), get some incredibly heavy hitters like Stephen King involved, and have poetry as well, and Chuck Palahniuk can do the freaking introduction, even. Let’s make this thing incredible. Let’s end this series on a high-note! And for a while, I thought that’s exactly what I did with the book. I couldn’t be more proud of how Chiral Mad 3 turned out. It’s the most beautiful book I’ve created to-date. And then the world started splitting. People started taking sides on various matters, some topics important, some not so important. Mudslingers everywhere, it seemed. The bizarro community, the science fiction community, the horror community … all these virtual “writing communities” (a term as non-important as “genre” in reality) shooting hate around like Nerf darts in some kind of social network mass-war-amongst-ourselves, when what the world really needs is cohesiveness, people working together to move forward (and all that kumbaya), a collaboration of minds. So then I thought, Crap. And then I thought, Chiral Mad 4 could be completely collaborative. If people wanted this book to happen, I felt they’d have to work together to make it happen, and since it would be a fourth volume in the series: What if the anthology had 4 short stories, 4 novelettes, 4 novellas, and 4 graphic adaptations: all collaborations? I eventually decided the editing should be collaborative as well, and invited Lucy A. Snyder as co-editor. Together we’ve made it our goal to make Chiral Mad 4 the most diversely incredible anthology imaginable. And now the submissions are piling in. All over the world, writers and artists working together, collaborations that may have never happened otherwise. If anything, we’ve called a giant “time-out” for a while so everyone can pick up their Nerf darts (whether to be put away or readied for battle is unclear at this point). Will the series end with this fourth volume? I don’t know. Maybe the series will continue to evolve over time, getting better and better. Maybe the world will continue to evolve, and do the same.

WYTOVICH: Chiral Mad 3 has also been nominated for the Bram Stoker award and this particular book featured both prose and poetry. What made you decide to include both forms? What did you like best about the project, or perhaps, what surprised you most while editing it?

BAILEY: I’m a fan of poetry, although I’m not sure if 1) I’m any good at writing it, or 2) I’m good at recognizing whether or not poetry is good. My own two collections, Scales and Petals, and Inkblots and Blood Spots, feature both fiction and poetry. Am I any good? I don’t know. I just write poetry because it sometimes wants out of me. All of my poetry is mathematically structured. Is that a thing? I’m not sure of that, either. I don’t know all the rules. Are there even rules? My goal is to create something powerful with minimal words, and I guess that’s what I look for when I read poetry for anthologies, and I guess this makes me have certain tastes. I’m not a critic, by any means, but I’ve been told by others with apparently exceptional taste that the poetry within Chiral Mad 3 is rather good, as well as the poetry included in You, Human. The science-fiction anthology Qualia Nous contained only one poem by Marge Simon, which ended up winning a Rhysling Award that year from the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), so perhaps I have good taste in poetry after all. The poetry guidelines for Chiral Mad 3 were unique. The request was for two poems from each contributor, which I eventually structured throughout the book so they’d mirror each other in the Table of Contents, each poem placed so the contents went story/poem/story/poem/story, thus making the entire book chiral in structure. What I liked best about the project was perhaps the flow this created when reading the book cover to cover, and the fact that most of the poetry I received came from fiction writers, not necessarily known for their poetry. I think the anthology turned out beautifully, but that’s just my opinion, my taste. Chiral Mad 4 will not contain poetry, and neither will my next collection, The Impossible Weight of Life (mostly long fiction), but that won’t stop me from including poetry in the future.

WYTOVICH: What’s sitting in your TBR pile these days?

BAILEY: I’ve read so many novels this last year that I’ve cleared off my TBR pile completely, but I have some catch-up to do on books that have waited on the FTBR (future TBR) pile for a while now, and have now graduated to TBR. These include Raymond Carver’s collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (a book, like many others, that I had started, set aside, and hadn’t returned to yet), re-reading George Orwell’s 1984, Neil Gaiman’s collections, Fragile Things and Trigger Warnings (two other books I’ve stopped and need to re-start), John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Harbor, and J. Lincoln Fenn’s Poe (since I loved Dead Souls). The rest of my new TBR is filled with works not yet published. Gene O’Neill and I are going go see Kim Stanley Robinson for his release of New York 2140, which is a massive 624-page novel about a futuristic New York City, so I’ll be adding that to my pile as well.

WYTOVICH: Where do you think the horror genre is presently sitting at in the market? What do you think the next big trend is going to be?

BAILEY: Despite the fact that “genre” is simply a bookstore label, horror is on the rise—if we must have a label for it. I don’t consider myself a horror writer, yet some people do; I don’t consider myself on the rise (not by far), but some people do. I just write what I need to write and publish whenever and wherever I can; some things dark, some not-so-dark, some not even speculative. Maybe someday I’ll do well enough with all this book stuff to no longer need that day job and can write/edit/publish fulltime, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon (unless there’s an agent out there willing to shop me some sort of multi-book deal with a publisher … anyone?), and if such a thing ever happens, my stuff will most likely not be marketed as “horror” at all. I read over a hundred “horror” novels last year, and half-read/skimmed-through a hundred more; nearly all were from small or mid-size publishers, and only a handful from imprints of large publishers. Horror is thriving in small and mid-size press (mostly small, and marketed as horror), and a very small portion of these leak into big press (albeit not marketed as horror). Authors like Sarah Pinborough are making bestseller lists, Stephen King is still cranking out books each year (perhaps he’s still considered horror, I don’t know), even collaborating with non-relatives, people like Richard Chizmar of Cemetery Dance (a publisher that screams horror). Authors like Michael Marshall Smith and Josh Malerman are getting six-figure, multi-book deals, and rightfully so. More “horror” writers need to leak into big publishers’ hands this way, and I believe that’s the trend we’ll see. That said, and to beat a dead horse once again: these writers, and their books, will not be marketed as horror. Other than that, look for a rise in standalone novellas from small and mid-size presses, and more collaborative projects in all forms.

WYTOVICH: What can your readers look forward to on the horizon?

BAILEY: Besides the projects mentioned in this interview, readers can look forward to a few long fiction pieces of mine popping up in anthologies here and there (to be kept in secret at this time, unfortunately). For fans of dark science fiction, I’m currently co-editing an anthology with Darren Speegle called Adam’s Ladder, to be published later this year by Dark Regions Press. If I can somehow find the time, I’d like to finish my fourth novel, Seen in Distant Stars, which is a literary/soft science fiction thriller that deals with SIDS (an acronym of the title) and stars disappearing from the night sky. I think this will be an incredibly powerful and moving novel, and more mainstream than anything I’ve written before. I also hope to have some exciting Psychotropic Dragon news soon, although I can announce the meta-novel will have three illustrators for each of its three parts: Daniele Serra (novelette), Glenn Chadbourne (novella), and Ty Scheueruman (short novel). Other books I’m working on at Written Backwards include Yes Trespassing, the debut fiction collection by Erik T. Johnson, and The Far Future, book four of The Cal Wild Chronicles by Gene O’Neill (finally wrapping up that multi-book project). I’ve also hinted online about a nonfiction book simply called Book, with a completely generic cover, like generic packaging from the 80’s. And last but not least, hopefully my readers can look forward to me having an agent. Anyone? Anyone? I’m throwing out gold bars here! There’s gotta be an agent looking for gold bars reading this interview, right?

WYTOVICH: If you could give one piece of advice to writers as an editor, what would it be?

BAILEY: I’ll give four. 1) Read (and understand) guidelines before submitting your work. For example, Chiral Mad 4 is looking for collaborative works (written by more than one person) in the ranges of 5,000 words, 10,000 words, and 20,000 words, as well as graphic adaptations up to 10 pages in length. Please do not send solo-authored flash fiction pieces, complete novels, short story collections, 150,000-word space operas, 1,800-word stories written by you (but it was your wife’s idea, really, so it’s collaborative, right?), or your friend had this really cool idea and you wrote the entire thing and you’re unsure if you should put his name on there as co-author (you shouldn’t), three or four or five stories all at once (hoping we have time to read them all and will pick the best one out of the litter) all written only by you, or stories that meet the guidelines but actually don’t because the story was written by you and your fake pen-name. Yes, I’ve seen all of these things so far with Chiral Mad 4 submissions and have to weed them out; 2) Write the most beautiful words you are capable of writing; 3) Learn the art of self-editing and keep chiseling away until there’s nothing left but the good stuff; and 4) Read at a ratio of at least a hundred or more words than you write.