Friday, July 19, 2013

THE MADHOUSE REVIEW: TOTEMS AND TABOOS


$19.65; 76 pages; June, 2005
ISBN-13: 978-1411667020
Cycatrix Press

When I first opened Totems and Taboos, I met a piece of art titled, “Release.”  Drawn to the deep red background, contrasted against the dancing, soft pink outlines of the female form, I stayed on this page for a few minutes, thinking, analyzing.   The piece vibrated with sexual energy, yet there was a subtle violence to it that screamed—and screamed louder—the longer I looked at it.  Colors began to blend and images contorted on the page, and visuals that I didn’t initially notice showed up and questioned me to go further. To dig deeper.

And that’s what Brock’s collection is about.

Going deeper, and not being afraid of what you find when you get to the bottom.

Brock brings the horror genre to a new light as he tackles stereotypes, social conventions, physical and psychological break—whether through love or hate—and fashions them together to bring out a product that is charged with an honest brutality. Yet, I use that word as an noun o f extremes because in some cases, it’s love that consumes the art, taking over the body of prose and engulfing it metaphor by metaphor such as in his piece, “Papillion.”  But then again, in a piece like “Victim,”—a personal favorite of mine—readers see a nightmare come to life as the narrator states, “Anger is a gift: use it” (Brock 47).

The collection balances the lover and the fighter and asks what it means to hide in plain sight.  It shows how society sees too much and responds too little. There’s death and rebirth, resurrection and murder, and Brock ties it up and presents it in a way that makes readers stop, and not only reread, or take another look at what he’s written or created, but start to ask questions as well. How do we, as people, as consumers, as artists, live, love, respond and die? And why does it matter? Mind you, he won’t give you the answers, but he’ll lead you down the path to find them; he’ll take your hand and show you the tragedies and the beauties that the world has to offer.

Totems and Taboos is a striking collaboration of art and poetry, and the two work together as they create and form intellectual battles of the brain and the heart. I know I’ve read something beautiful—something meaningful—when it makes me question the way I look at something, whether it is a political or social issue, or even a dream that I’d dismissed the night before. Good art—good literature—takes you to places that you might not want to go, and in the places that you do, shows you the sublime, the uncanny realities of what you missed at first glance.

So I implore you, take a walk through the wild, the esoteric. Look at the stars and read their messages. See the world, live in it and take chances. Look at the good, see the bad, and then understand how and why you feel the way you do.

And then—and maybe most importantly—react, respond.
 
Stay Scared,
Stephanie M. Wytovich
 
Brock, Jason V. Totems and Taboos. Cycatrix Press, 2005. Print  

Monday, July 15, 2013

WYTOVICH GETS STRAIGHTJACKET READY

PATIENT: LEE ALLEN HOWARD
ILLNESS: WRITER

When did you start writing? Why did you pick the genre you write it?

One of my favorite books in elementary school was the humorous and horrific How to Care for Your Monster (1970) by Norman Bridwell. I’m not sure where else I got my excitement for horror fiction from, but I’ve always liked the spooky and morbid.
In second grade I started writing my own stories on three-ring notebook paper, binding them with construction paper covers. One memorable story was titled “Eyeballs Only,” about a mad scientist who turns into a monster that goes on a rampage to pluck people’s eyes out and eat them. Like chocolate-covered cherries, they squirt in your mouth.

I got a charge out of seeing people react with horror and disgust to something I’d written. (And I still do.) When I was around 14, I devoured Tom Tryon’s The Other (1971). I was electrified! And that’s what spurred me to write stories of horror, crime, and the supernatural.

Where you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?

I journaled in grade school and high school, but not now. Sometimes I print out articles concerning something weird or gruesome, but I rarely write about them. Most of my ideas seem to come from out of the blue (black, rather), and haunt me until I do something with them.
 
I think inspiration comes from another realm, and ideas descend like pinballs, bouncing off this creative person and the next, until they find just the right soul to communicate their message. I’m not sure what that says about me. But I feel I’m the only one who can relate the things I write about, however twisted they may be.

What’s a normal (writing) day like for you?

I work from home full time as a technical writer for a software company. So the day job comes first. I’m done by 6:00 p.m., when I’m happy to leave the house. I go out for dinner and then spend two hours writing at one of my favorite coffee shops on the east side of Pittsburgh. I also write Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings from 7:00 a.m. to noon.

Favorite author or book? Who are you currently reading?

As I mentioned previously, Tom Tryon’s The Other is responsible for my wanting to write, along with James Herbert’s The Rats (1974). My favorite British author is Ramsey Campbell. I also adore Patrick McGrath’s Asylum (1996).

Currently, I’m reading Stephanie Wytovich’s HYSTERIA and loving its delicious darkness. I’m also into neo-noir writer Trent Zelazny’s Too Late to Call Texas. He’s another favorite of mine.

Do you prefer writing poetry or prose? Why one over the other?

I wrote some poetry when I was younger. I’ve also written a number of short stories. Now I need more room for my characters, plot, and story, so I’m concentrating on novels (working on #6).

Why do you write dark fiction?

I write horror because I’ve always seen things from a dark perspective. For most of my life I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression. So what “normal life” looks like to others has been fear and misery to me.

Yet somehow, a horrifying story—one that creeps me out, makes my mouth drop open or my hair stand on end—has always filled me, strangely enough, with life. I figure if fictional characters can go through hell and come out on top (if there’s a happy ending, of course), so can I. Horror keeps me going.

Reading and writing horror not only stimulates me, it makes me laugh. I think I was able to interject some humor, albeit grim, in my latest novel, Death Perception.

Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pantser?

Definitely a plotter. I now spend a lot of time developing characters, timelines, backstory, story structure, and scene outlines before I begin drafting. This process helps me work out issues that would be more difficult to fix, were I free-drafting. I hate investing time and effort into something that stalls when I could have worked through the problem in the plotting stage.

What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?

Developing an initial idea into a full-blown story. I’m still learning this process—but I’m getting better at it.

Current projects?

My fourth novel, the supernatural thriller Death Perception, was recently released. Nineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes. He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, Kennet must bring the killers to justice. Dark and fun!

I finished my fifth novel in April (it took me only four months to plot, write, and revise it). Call of the Piss Fairy is a dark and disturbing psychological thriller about an abused young man with chronic secondary nocturnal enuresis (adult bedwetting). As pressures mount, he embarks on a killing spree using the tools of his dark fantasies: a military fighting knife and a pair of electric hair trimmers. I’m hoping the book will be out this fall.

How do you balance being an editor and being a writer?

Not all editors are writers, but all writers must also be editors, at least of their own work. I’ve made a concerted effort to develop both my creative writing talents and my editing skills. Self-editing often makes the difference between acceptance and rejection. I spoke about “Self-editing for Publication” at this year’s In Your Write Mind conference at Seton Hill University. I also do freelance editing of dark fiction.

What do you think people expect from you with your writing?

I hope readers get an interesting story well told—and well written. There are plenty of people dumping stories and books out there that aren’t ready for prime time because they aren’t sufficiently edited. I strive to make my stuff as smooth and clean as possible.

Considering what I have out there for sale, readers can expect a generous helping of misery in my fiction, served up with a chuckle and a generous side of creepiness. My motto is, “The creepier, the better.”

Advice for aspiring writers?

STUDY your craft. Read books. Go to workshops. Get feedback. APPLY what you learn to your own writing. Over the past 25 years, I’ve bought and read nearly 250 books about story development, writing craft, and editing. Whenever I discovered something I was doing wrong, I edited ALL my unpublished stories to fix the problem. (Some stories I’ve opened and edited more than 500 times.) A lot of work, sure. But by the time I was done, the new technique was mine.

All education is self-education. If you want to write—and publish—you must teach yourself.

BIO: Lee Allen Howard writes horror, dark fantasy, and supernatural crime. He’s been a professional writer and editor of both fiction and nonfiction since 1985. His works include The Sixth Seed, Desperate Spirits, Night Monsters, “Mama Said,” and Death Perception, available at http://leeallenhoward.com. Lee is a practicing medium and blogs about Spiritualism and metaphysics at http://buildingthebridge.wordpress.com.

Lee will also be presenting a "Self-editing for Publishing Success" workshop at the WE WRITE! event, September 21, at the Monroeville Public Library.
 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

HYSTERIA PULLS SOME TRICKS IN THE MADHOUSE


PATIENT: MIKE MEHALEK
ILLNESS: TRICKSTER (AKA WRITER)

With HYSTERIA running loose out in the world, she continues to collect patients and spread madness like a disease, maybe now more so than ever. Crazy or sane, she locks her victims up, listening to their stories and memorizing their words. Nothing makes her happier than the drama in the psych ward, and at the end of the day-- only after she's sucked the patients dry of their memories and dreams--does she curl up in Ward C and start to compose. Today, she ended up in Boston and decided to pay SHUWPF Alum, Mike Mehalek a visit.

And now he too, is tragically locked up with nowhere to go--nowhere to look--but outside the asylum window.


The Asylum Window
Mike Mehalek, Spring of '98

Peering down,
An oak tree,
a lamp post,
a person
cast their shadows on the sidewalk
from the morning sun.

Dew sparkles,
a car speeds,
a man smokes.
All eventually disappear.
Peering down.

i see two girls' joking laughter
i see the grass' fresh odors
i see the love of a warm kiss
i see the love of father and son
i see the love of two best friends
Peering down.
 
 i cannot hear their laughter,
          only buzzing lights.
i cannot smell the grass nor taste a soda,
          only the foul scent of urine.
i cannot feel love
i cannot feel love
i cannot feel love
          only see it,
Peering down.


BIO: Mike Mehalek (aka Tricky) is a country boy adapting to life in the big city, and is a writer of thriller, horror, literary, and flash fiction.

In 2008 Mike graduated from the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University with his thesis Only Human, an urban dark fantasy, soon to be released. 

You can check out at an excerpt of Only Human on his blog here, and follow him on Twitter @mikemehalek.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

HYSTERIA TAKES OVER MADHOUSE POETRY PROJECT

Hello Everyone--

The past two weeks have certainly been filled with their own special brand of madness, but I'm here to report that the initial Poetry Project that I started when I began my adventure with HYSTERIA has reached a following of 600+ people on Twitter today. Talk about true insanity!

So true to my word, I'm here to give you a taste of the muse herself. Tonight, I give you a patient that cries herself to crazy. A patient that can't distinguish fact from fiction, reality from fantasy.

Remember, madness lives inside of us all.
It's just a matter of finding it, and knowing how to keep it hidden.

Stay Scared,
Stephanie M. Wytovich


Patient Sorrow

In the corner she wept,
And when I asked her name,
She looked at me,
             Eyes wide in question,
             Reflecting the coolest of blues
             Like a wave at high tide
And she whispered my name,
Her lips moving in sync with mine,
Her tears streaming down my cheeks

We were in unison
The broken half to the whole
Two pieces
            That found each other
            Locked away in the asylum
            Trapped in the mind’s fog
Where we tried to ignore, tried to forget
That nurses can become patients
When madness has no prejudice to its host


For more madness, check out HYSTERIA: A Collection of Madness:
http://www.rawdogscreaming.com/books/hysteria.html