Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Reading Challenge: 130 Books to Madness

Hi Everyone,

Every year, I partake in the Goodreads reading challenge. In the past, my goal has been to read 52 books a year, but I’ve since challenged myself to read 100. This year, I’ve managed to read 130 books and I think you’ll see that no, not all of them are horror. I think it’s important to read outside of your genre, your form, and most importantly, your time period, so this is my latest attempt at continuing my education into being a well-read adult.

Here are some of my favorites off the list:

Poetry: The Sex Lives of Monsters by Helen Marshall
Novels/Novellas: M Train by Patti Smith
Short Story Collections: A Long December by Richard Chizmar
Graphic Novels: Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito
With tired eyes and a full mind,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Poetry
The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories by Tim Burton
Class Clown by Victoria Dym
Boneshaker by Jan Beatty
The Switching Yard by Jan Beatty
Mad River by Jan Beatty
The Lunatic by Charles Simic
Hotel Insomnia by Charles Simic
The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands by Nick Flynn
Some Ether by Nick Flynn
My Feelings: Poems by Nick Flynn
Underwater Fistfight by Matt Betts
Strange Vegetables by G.O. Clark
The Sick Bag Song by Nick Cave
The Collected Poems of Georges Bataille by Georges Bataille
Love Poems by Anne Sexton
The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg
Room Where I Get What I Want by S. Whitney Holmes
Wait Till I’m Dead: Uncollected Poems by Allen Ginsberg
The Shadow Owner’s Companion by Eleanor Hooke
The 8th House by Feng Sun Chen
PseudoPsalms: Saints v. Sinners by Peter Adam Salomon
The Seven Yards of Sorrow by David E. Cowen
The Hospital Poems by Jim Ferris
Blood Song by Michael Schmeltzer
Rubbernecking by Molly Prosser
Voices from Empty Rooms by Lisa Lepovetsky
Elegy/Elk River by Michael Schmeltzer
Quarter Life Poetry: Poems for the Young, Broke and Hangry by Samantha Jayne
Freakcidents by Michael A. Arnzen
Poems of My Night by Cynthia Pelayo
Field Guide to the End of the World: Poems by Jeannine Hall Gailey
The Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems by Larry Levis
The Sex Lives of Monsters by Helen Marshall
Witch Hunt by Juliet Escoria

Novels/Novellas
The Chimes by Charles Dickens
Next by Michael Crichton
Little Dead Read by Mercedes M. Yardley
The Incredible Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson
The Wizard of Oz by  Frank L. Baum
Stolen Away by Kristin Dearborn
The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
Hannibal by Thomas Harris
The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
Asylum by Jeannette de Beauvoir
The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy by Mercedes M. Yardley
Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille
Ring by Koji Suzuki
Ritualistic Human Sacrifice by C.V. Hunt
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris
M Train by Patti Smith
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut
The Death House by Sarah Pinborough
Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman
Kangaroo Notebook by Kobo Abe
Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear by Margee Kerr
Sea of Trees by Robert James Russell
Point Hollow by Rio Youers
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
The Past Life Perspective: Discovering Your True Nature Across Multiple Lifetimes by Ann C. Barham
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Murrmann: A Tale of Van Helsing by Michael A. Arnzen
A House at the Bottom of the Lake by Josh Malerman
The Sadist’s Bible by Nicole Cushing
Rare Breeds by Erik Hofstatter
And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs
The Eschatologist by Greg Chapman
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov

Short Story Collections/Anthologies
While the Black Stars Burn by Lucy A. Snyder
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Grim Mistresses by Stacey Turner (C.W. LaSart, Mercedes M. Yardley, Allison M. Dickson and S.R. Cambridge)
Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories edited by Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward
Monstrosities by Jeremy C. Shipp
A Long December by Richard Chizmar
Cartoons in the Suicide Forest by Leza Cantoral

Graphic Novels/Comics
Gyo by Junji Ito
The Enigma of Amigara Fault by Junji Ito
Human Chair by Junji Ito
Black Paradox by Junji Ito
Hellstar Remina by Junji Ito
Cat Diary by Junji Ito
Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito
Sandman Mystery Theater, Vol 1: The Tarantula by Matt Wagner
Sandman Mystery Theatre, Vol 3: The Vamp by Matt Wagner
The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman
Frankenstein: The Graphic Novel by Lloyd S. Wagner
Frankenweenie by Tim Burton
Emily the Strange Vol 1-3: Long, Dark and Bored by Rob Reger
Emily the Strange Vol 2: This Cover Got Lost by Cosmic Debris by Rob Reger
Emily the Strange Vol 3: The Dark Issue by Brian Brooks by Rob Reger
George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead by Steve Niles
The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning by Jimmy Palmiotti
Edward Scissorhands, Vol 1: Parts Unknown by Kate Leth
Edward Scissorhands, Vol 2: Whole Again by Kate Leth
Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh
The Great and Secret Show by Chris Ryall/ Clive Barker
Monster, Vol 1 by Naoki Urasawa
Monster, Vol 2 by Naoiki Urasawa
Monster, Vol 3 by Naoki Urasawa
The Joker by Brian Azzarello, Lee Bermejo
Suicide Squad, Vol 1: Kicked in the Teeth by Adam Glass
Suicide Squad, Vol 2: Basilisk Rising by Adam Glass
Suicide Squad, Vol 3: Death is for Suckers by Adam Glass
Suicide Squad, Vol 4: Discipline and Punishment by Ales Kot
Suicide Squad, Vol 5: Walled in by Mat Kindt
The Green Woman by Peter Straub and Michael Easton
The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks
Stigmata by Lorenzo Mattoti
Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola
Colder, Vol 1 by Paul Tobin
Colder, Vol 2, The Bad Seed by Paul Tobin
The Creep by Jonathan Case
Arkham Asylum: Madness by Sam Kieth
Batman: Joker’s Last Laugh by Chuck Dixon
Batman: Arkham Asylum Living Hell Deluxe Edition by Sam Kieth
Green River Kill by Jeff Jensen
Harley Quinn, Vol.1: Hot in the City by Amanda Conner
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: The Graphic Novel by Ransom Riggs

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Author Interview: Leza Cantoral, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest

Friends and fiends! Gather round, gather round!

Today in the MADHOUSE, there are cartoons in our suicide forest as we welcome author and editor, Leza Cantoral. Leza and I recently had the pleasure of (finally) getting to spend some time with each other this year in Los Angeles where we chatted about feminism, darkness and all things magic. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Leza and her work, she was born in Mexico and she runs CLASH Books and is editor of Print Projects for Luna Luna Magazine. She lives in New Hampshire with the love of her life and their two cats.

Below is an interview that her and I did about her collection, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest, as well as some dialogue about her interests, influences, and upcoming projects. There are links scattered throughout to purchase the book, as well as a book trailer that Leza shot and edited herself that depicts the central scene from the titular story in the collection. Enjoy!

With hallucinogenic nightmares,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

WYTOVICH: Tell us about your collection. What inspired you to compile it and how did you go about doing so, i.e. what was your process like for choosing the stories?

CANTORAL: This collection has been a while coming. There are some very old stories in it, though most are new. I wanted to have them out there. I wrote the titular story once I knew this would be a Bizarro Pulp Press/Journalstone book. The collection felt slim, even with my novelette Planet Mermaid in there. So I brainstormed for a new story that would be true for me for where I was at. After I wrote ‘Cartoons in the Suicide Forest,’ I wrote a few more. A couple are pieces I wrote in a class I took on LitReactor called ‘Taboo Topics.’ It was taught by Juliet Escoria and she did a bang up job. Another thing that ended up in here is something I wrote for Ladyblog for their ‘Bruja’ themed issue. Rios de la Luz reached out to me for something and I’m very grateful. I ended up writing about my first acid experience and this figure I met in a dream that taught me about focus and learning to fly. One was from a Bizarro Oz anthology that I was invited by Zeb Carter to submit to. ‘Eva of Oz’ might be the most sexually sadistic and twisted story I have written. I had a lot of fun writing it.

Check out the book trailer here!
'Cartoons in the Suicide Forest' was a strange story. I was not sure what to write. I had recently quit drinking. The months following going sober were really hard. Not due to some sort of chemical withdrawal but for the psychological crutch that alcohol had become for me.

My main character is on the fence about killing herself. I created a character that was not me but I used elements of my own life, like an abortion I had in my 20s. The story became a way for me to express what being sober feels like. What it feels like when all your feelings come back. It can feel like you are OD’ing on feelings. It can feel like too much. It is a story about despair and making choices. If you do not make a choice someone else will do it for you and you probably will not like the result.

The story became something bigger and the villainess from that story will be the main villain in my upcoming Bizarro novella ‘The Ice Cream Girl Gospels’.
 
The soundtrack for writing that story was Rihanna’s Anti, btw. It’s a good album.

Basically, I chose the stories that I felt best represented what I can do as a writer.

WYOVICH: In regard to your writing process, what do you find is the hardest part? The most enjoyable?

CANTORAL: The hardest part is sticking with it. The funnest part is coming up with ideas and cool settings. I am all about style. I am one of those people that actually reads Proust for fun. The hard part is finishing things. Starting stuff is easy. I often dread editing but that is the easiest part. You already wrote the damn thing.

WYTOVICH: How would you describe your writing style to those who are new to your work? 

CANTORAL: My flash fiction has a surrealistic splatterpunk vibe. My longer stories are more Literary Horror. I like to experiment but I also like telling a good story.



WYTOVICH: Who are some of your influences in the genre? Do you have any writing rituals that you tend follow either before/during/or after you  write?

CANTORAL: I have a lot of influences. Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Garrett Cook, Juliet Escoria, are some.

Before I write a longer project, I get a new notebook. If it is a shorter project, then I just start writing it down. I hand write first. I try to induce a trance state in myself when I write. I submerge myself in the visual or audio media that is inspiring me and I try to get into the head space of my main character. I use method acting techniques that I learned from Stanislavski books and theater classes in college. Once I get the voice down I am good.

The day after I am done with a story I feel like a human corpse.

WYTOVICH: What books are sitting on your TBR pile?

CANTORAL: Too many. I have Glue, by Constance Anne Fitzgerald, Puppet Skin by Danger Slater, Shit Luck by Tiffany Scandal, and a pile of Victorian era literature I have been meaning to get into. I am actually reading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

WYTOVICH: What is next in store for you readers?


CANTORAL:  I have a Bizarro YA novella I am working on, as well as a high concept Bizarro Romantic Comedy. I also have a couple poems in an upcoming Civil Coping Mechanisms antho and a story called ‘Saint Jackie’ which will be appearing in More Bizarro than Bizarro, an anthology by Bizarro Pulp Press.


Praise for Cartoons in the Suicide Forest:

"Lyrical and perverse, like a prostitute on acid in a poetry slam, this collection of the dark, erotic, and bizarre flirts with the heroin fever dreams of a William Burroughs and the horrific surrealism of Charlee Jacobs."- Wrath James White, THE RESURRECTIONIST and THE BOOK OF A THOUSAND SINS
"Playful yet accusatory, brutal but sardonic: Leza Cantoral's short fiction will knock you for a loop. And then may administrator a few more kicks for good measure. Enthusiastically recommended."-Adam Cesare, THE CON SEASON and TRIBESMEN

"Leza Cantoral's writing is the product of a warped and dirty mind. You're in for an experience that is equal parts disturbing, surprising, and sexy."-Juliet Escoria, BLACK CLOUD and WITCH HUNT

“Well-crafted, funny, engaging and horrific.”-Laura Lee Bahr, HAUNT and LONGFORM RELIGIOUS PORN

“A bacchanal of language and imagery; Cantoral delivers the subconscious with voluptuous strokes throughout Cartoons in the Suicide Forest.”-Jennifer Robin, DEATH CONFETTI

“In Cartoons in the Suicide Forest, Leza Cantoral masterfully brings readers into bright, bizarre worlds where anything and everything is possible. In the Suicide Forest, trees “glitter and drip manic panic green in the moonlight.” In Russia, two lesbians get married in a winter wonderland, until a purple smoke bomb goes off, warning them that they are wanted by the government. When you least expect it, a star is born—a porn star who finds her power, destroying men with every candy-coated kiss.  In Siberian Honeymoon, each world that Cantoral shapes is rich in color and texture, and all characters who navigate these worlds have one thing in common: They must conquer something colossal, something wild. And no matter what happens, one thing is for sure: There will be sex, and there will be the unexpected.”-Ashely Inguantana, THE WOMAN ALONE and BOMB

“Sensual, darkly adult fairytales bristling with erotic, dreamlike surprises.”-Kris Saknussemm, PRIVATE MIDNIGHT and THE HUMBLE ASSESMENT

“These stories are killer!”-John Edward Lawson, RAW DOG SCREAMING PRESS

Leza Cantoral's fairy tales are as charming as they are dark and disturbing. They veer off traditional paths towards the uncanny and definitely scary. They could have been imagined by a psychopathic Walt Disney on acid. And that's a compliment."-Seb Doubinsky, WHITE CITY

“Leza’s words burn purple on the page with a fierce, unfettered imagination – she’s painted a strange and vivid world where terrible things happen in beautiful ways. Cartoons in the Suicide Forest, like Planet Mermaid before it, seduces you into scenarios that seems familiar at first but turn out to be unlike anything you’ve read before.”-Andrew Goldfarb, THE SLOW POISONER

"Bubbly with a jagged edge. That's how I would describe Leza Cantoral's writing. She reappropriates the fairy tale for adults with the imperfections, dangers and pitfalls that come with the territory. Sit back, relax, enjoy and more important: don't hurt yourself!"-Benoit LeLivre, DEAD END FOLLIES

Monday, December 19, 2016

My Year in Review: 2016, Part 2

The second half of my year proved to be much different, but still a whirlwind, nevertheless. You know, it’s strange how life works out sometimes, and yesterday, prior to writing this post, I finished up my sixth book, a poetry collection titled, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, which is a story about my time spent on the road over the past few years. It’s half fiction and half memoir, and let me tell you something friends: writing it was one hell of a journey.

So let’s take a look at what else was with me on the road this year:

June: After Ireland, I came back home and finished up my employment at Carlow, while still managing to head to Seton Hill University for alumni weekend. Michelle came up to spend the weekend with me, and the two of us drove into Greensburg to see tons of friends and mentors, old friends and new, and it was a blast. We also snuck in some major girl time (which was much needed), and she got me hooked on Lucifer and Vampire Diaries.

July: Come early July, I jumped in my car and headed out to spend a few days with Jen and John, and we visited the Washington National Cathedral and the National Museum of Health and Medicine, and then binge watched Arrested Development and caught up on life. I had a blast, and then shortly afterwards, I got to head to the Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the Andy Warhol museum, so unemployed life was treating me well.  

July also brought with it a new draft of the aforementioned poetry collection, a new interest in Japanese film, and most importantly, NECON36. It was so nice to get back to Rhode Island and see my other writing family for a bit, and the memories were plentiful (not to mention hysterical). I roomed with Kristin again, and we had our share of gummy sludge and sticky drinks with Mike, and then I got to meet some  new friends (hello, Mark Morris, Michael Rowe), and see tons of old ones. Hell, Brian Kirk and I even got matching glow sticks and Gardner and I shared many, many laughs, some of which, I’m sure will come back to haunt me in the most beautiful ways, ha!

August: By August, I was starting to feel a little stir crazy, but I had plenty of job interviews. Plus side? I landed one of those jobs by the end of the month. Down side? My aunt’s body was found in the damn that I used to fish at as a kid. Suicide had once again struck my family. R.I.P Aunt Chris.

September: Come September, things were starting to return to a normal state again as I had started my new job, and was freshly inked with a beautiful new thigh/hip piece. I also reconnected with an old friend from my freshmen college days who ended up taking me out for whiskey and dinner and kickstarting a romance that should have begun years ago.  By the time I was at the RDSP retreat in Milton Delaware running around with my crew and sharing a bunk-bed with Jesssica McHugh, I knew that I had fallen in love with Dennis and I couldn't wait to get home to tell him just that.


October: Early October, Dennis and I started dating, and things were perfect. I was settled into my new job, and head over heels (still am) for my new guy. But God must have gotten a memo that said things were too perfect, so while I was in the middle of singing alongside Patti Smith at her concert, I got a phone call from my brother who said our family dog, Rufus, was having multiple seizures and that Mom and Dad were on their way to the vet to have him put down. Thankfully I was able to make in there in time to hold our sweet boy and cover him in kisses before I said goodbye, but my heart was ripped in two.


Weeks passed, and thankfully we had a fantastic Halloween together with friends, and after years of failed Halloween attempts, I finally landed a guy who wanted to watch Pet Semetary and go out and dance. We ended up at a warehouse(ish) party dancing the night away, and man, I don’t think I’ve smiled that much in years. It was a blast. 


November: By mid-November, Dennis and I decided to move in together and we spent Thanksgiving at both of our parent’s and gorged ourselves on turkey and stuffing. That holiday weekend, my best friend, Kat, came in to spend the weekend with me, but life stopped when I got a call from my brother early that Sunday morning that our grandfather had passed way. Scott and I had just visited with our pap a few days before and the news hit me hard, and just like that, everything changed.

December: The first week of December, we buried my grandfather. Death had touched us frequently this year and finding peace was getting more and more difficult for me as my entire 2016 had been about mourning the things that I’d lost, but thankfully, Dennis is an angel, and he helped me through it in more ways than one. I grieved the loss of my pap and mourned him by making a beautiful memory box in his honor, and that helped put my heart at peace a bit. A week or so after that, I started to return to the world, and I celebrated the release of my first novel, The Eighth, and on top of that, Dennis and I even managed to throw some Christmas fun stuff into our busy schedules.

But having said all of that, one guy in particular really helped bring out the happiness in our lives again this year.

And he’ll make an appearance in our home this Thursday.

With devious smiles and an excited heart,
Stephanie M. Wytovich



Friday, December 16, 2016

My Year in Review: 2016, PART 1

This year has definitely been one for the books (no pun intended) as it was easily the worst year of my life. Full of pitfalls and heartache, sorrow and conflict, I’ve emerged into a stronger person—a different person—yes, but my god, what a journey.

I ran away a lot this year, and to some extent, I realized that I’ve been running away for a very long time in my life, and only now, as I write this, do I finally feel like I’ve reached a destination where I can stop and catch my breath. I sit here now and look at the decisions I’ve had to make, and the wounds and scars still feel as fresh now as they did when they happened, but truth be told, it hasn’t been all bad; in fact, there were moments that were full of such happiness and love that I know I’ll carry them with me forever.

 So let’s take a look.

I started 2016 in one of the worst emotional states of my life, and as a result, I spent the next eight months in a permanent state of war with myself physically, emotionally, and mentally. I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life, and it broke me so bad that I ended up in therapy for months, and for those of you who know me, going back wasn’t an easy feat, but it was something that needed to be done. While I was in therapy, I learned a lot about myself and my behaviors that put my decisions and habits into perspective for me, and as a result, I was able to make the changes and adjustments to my life that I needed to become a happier, healthier person.

Which thank my lucky stars, because I had no idea what was coming for me…

January: After finishing up the winter residency at Carlow, I jumped ship and locked myself in a beach house with Jennifer in Delaware for a weekend of tea, movies, and girl time. We walked the beach, stayed up way too long talking, and went antiquing and book shopping.

Jennifer, you’re my rock and I wouldn’t have gotten through *any* of this without you. That trip meant more to me than you’ll  probably ever know.

April: Now back to Pittsburgh, it was time to start planning my trip to Los Angeles, California for AWP. I was super excited about this both because it was a location on my bucket list, and I thought that it would give me the clarity that I needed at that time. To my surprise, one of my favorite people in the ENTIRE world, Ryan DeMoss, jumped a plane and met me in the city, and our weekend was filled with Death Museums, snakes, matching BFF tattoos, failed voodoo attempts and lots of Japanese candy and ice cream. We ran around Hollywood Blvd, took lots of hysterical pictures, searched for THE DOORS, and as Ryan always does, he chased after me, picked me up, and put a smile back on my face.

Ryan, your friendship means so much to me, and I honestly don’t know what I would do without you in my life.

May: Still feeling blue, I hopped a plane and flew to Las Vegas, Nevada for StokerCon and the Bram Stoker Awards. Honestly, I wasn’t in the mood for this trip at all, but Kristin Dearborn and Mike Arnzen swept me up in a haze of buffets, booze, and laughs, and Jennifer flew down, too, and we got to have a spa day, eat some ice cream, and catch a show (Zumanity).  Plus, I debuted my poetry collection, Brothel, and got to meet one of my other favorite people in life, Brian Kirk, in addition to seeing tons of old friends that make my heart smile. I came home feeling refreshed and with tons of stories about raptor forests (thank you, Trevor), human combustion, and The Flamingo Hotel. Funny thing though: when I came back home from my trip, I was informed that due to budget cuts and some other factors, that my position at Carlow had been eliminated, and come July 1st, I would be unemployed.

Kristin, you’re the easiest person to talk to and you forever make me laugh as we travel the world together. I’m forever grateful for everything you’ve stood by me with this year.

Brian, there are no words, man. We’ve formed a beautiful friendship and got matching glow stick necklaces. Your smile and kindness forever warms my heart and reminds me that there is still good in the world.

June: With a heavy heart, I swallowed my fears and decided that I would make the best of this moment, and that perhaps this shift in my life was something that was needed in order to make room for opportunities that I couldn’t quite see yet. So I applied for some jobs, landed an editing gig, and a graduate teaching position at Western Connecticut, and then grabbed my passport and packed my bags. It was time for Ireland.

This trip was special to me for so many reason: 1) it would be a farewell trip to the students and the faculty that I’d met over the past two years and to the job that I loved; and 2) this trip (outside of my professional duties) was going to be all about me. I made a list of the places that I wanted to go, and the things that I wanted to see. I had my camera and my journal and I wrote the entire time I was there, and I walked into churches and prayed and cried and lit candle after candle. I relived painful memories, and I made beautiful ones to replace them, like seeing Francis Bacon’s studio, and singing Livin’ on a Prayer in the Temple Bar District, and hiking through Glendalough. I put myself on a whiskey tour, got beautifully lost, and I danced and sang and laughed my way through the city as I located a first edition of Rosemary’s Baby and attended the Dublin Literary Awards. It was the trip of a lifetime and I loved every minute of it, but before I knew it, it was time to come home and face what awaited me….

Nothing.


*...to be continued.

Monday, November 21, 2016

GETTING SNOWED IN AT THE MADHOUSE WITH MARIA ALEXANDER

Hello my bloody little snow bunnies,

The first snowfall of the year has fallen in Pittsburgh, and as such, I thought that it would be the perfect time to sit down and have a chat with my lovely friend, Maria Alexander, about her debut YA novel, SNOWED, recently released from Raw Dog Screaming Press.

So grab a blanket, sneak some whiskey in your coffee, and bundle up, because it's about to get cold in the madhouse, and when the heat goes off in the asylum, there's no saying what people will do to stay warm.

With frostbite,
Stephanie M. Wytovich
-----

Guest Interview: Maria Alexander
via Stephanie M. Wytovich

WYTOVICH: Hi, Maria! It’s looks like it’s winter over in your world now, and I’m super excited to jump into your most recent publication, especially as someone who is already a fan of your work. Can you tell us a little bit about SNOWED? What inspired you to write a young adult novel this time around?

ALEXANDER: In late 2012, I was inspired to turn my highly successful flash fiction piece, “Coming Home,” into a novel. The protagonist needed to be a teen because teens are at that age where they can see adulthood on the horizon but they’re still clinging to fairy tales. For various reasons, that seemed to be the perfect balance for Snowed. But as I wrote the story, and then the sequel, Inversion, it became quite clear that I’d found my voice in YA. Parents and teen readers alike told me that my writing was very realistic, very exciting. I could already tell something huge had shifted for me. I think you’ll see what I mean when you read it. It’s definitely my best work to date by far.

WYTOVICH: Which character do you feel like that you have the strongest connection to and why?

ALEXANDER: Definitely Charity Jones. When she walked into my daydreams, I just loved her. She’s not perfect, but she’s strong and smart in ways I wish I’d been when I was her age. Her parents are very different than mine were, and I think that makes all the difference.

WYTOVICH: Regarding your writing process, what do you find was the biggest challenge with this project? What was the most enjoyable?

ALEXANDER: Honestly, this book and its sequel have both been the greatest joy I’ve ever had writing. The biggest challenge was actually the physical act of writing. My hands were disabled as I wrote the first draft, which meant I used Dragon NaturallySpeaking to complete the manuscript. It wasn’t the first time I’d been disabled, nor was it the first time I’d used Dragon, but I was still scared that I’d never be able to type again – or do many other things, for that matter.

WYTOVICH: How would you describe your writing style to those who are new to your work? Did you feel a noticeable change in your voice or style with writing a YA novel? Or was it just a shift in content and language? 

ALEXANDER: I’ve always described my writing style as prose poetry, but everything changed when I started writing YA. Literally. Charity reads the way a teenager speaks, and that’s totally unlike anything I’ve written before. Since she’s a very smart girl, I give her some leeway to come up with interesting phrases, but I stayed faithful to her, which is why I think she appeals so strongly to teens of all genders. The definition of YA is one teen telling another his or her story. I wrote from a young teen’s point of view in “Though Thy Lips Are Pale,” but that protagonist is NOT talking to another teen. There’s a profound difference. In YA, you’re telling a story that appeals to teen interests and concerns, which can be alien to adults. While adults will remember what it was like to be a teen and embrace the story, you need to stay true to your core audience.

WYTOVICH: Who are some of your influences in the YA genre? Where did you find yourself pulling inspiration from? Any favorite books/authors that you found yourself faithfully picking up?

 
ALEXANDER: Phillip Pullman is probably my biggest influence, although JK Rowling and Nancy Holder follow closely on his heels. After I wrote Snowed, I started watching MTV’s Teen Wolf. I was thrilled to see how much Snowed felt like Teen Wolf, which is crazy popular with teens. Snowed isn’t horror per se, but it’s really dark and the friendships are as close-knit and intimate as those in the show. I think there’s huge crossover potential in the audiences.

In a weird way, Twilight was probably the biggest influence because I was trying to create something totally unlike it. As a result, I wound up breaking almost every “rule” in the YA genre. I didn’t realize how many rules I’d broken until I started following the “Brooding YA Hero” account on Twitter. I was talking to Miri, one of my teen beta readers, about it when I said, “I broke a lot of rules in Snowed, huh?” She replied, “Yeah, but it’s awesome!” And, man, you should have seen the enthusiasm from my teen readers. I’ve put up some of their “blurbs” on my website.

WYTOVICH: What do you hope that readers gain from this book?

ALEXANDER: Their money’s worth. And a thirst for the next two.

WYTOVICH: Did I hear rumors of a sequel?

ALEXANDER: Hells yeah. Inversion is almost done. It’s an even bigger rollercoaster ride, if that’s possible. And after that will be the conclusion, Ashes of Angels. I already know the broad strokes of that tale. The world I’m creating is certainly big enough for spinoffs and short stories. I’m looking forward to it all.


Author Bio:

Maria Alexander is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Mr. Wicker. She’s been publishing short stories and poetry since 1999. When she’s not slinging a katana in her Shinkendo dojo, she’s being outrageously spooky or writing Doctor Who filk. She lives in Los Angeles with two ungrateful cats, a Jewish Christmas caroler, and a purse called Trog.

Short Pitch:

Teen engineering prodigy, Charity Jones, is a skeptic who learns she should not only believe in certain Christmas myths, but she should be afraid of them.

BUY THE BOOK HERE.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

DAVID E. COWEN BRINGS SEVEN SORROWS TO MADHOUSE

Hello my lovelies,

Here in the madhouse today, I have my friend and colleague, David E. Cowen. David and I met for the first time this year, and in Vegas nonetheless, after we had spent the better part of a few months working on the third installment of the HWA Poetry Showcase together. At Stokercon, I got to chatting with David about his book, The Seven Yards of Sorrows, and told him that it was a must read for me, and after thoroughly enjoying it for his dark delicacies, I invited David to come visit me in my ward and have a chat about his book.

So sit back and relax--I've postponed all treatments until after story time.

With needles and blood spots,
Stephanie M. Wytovich
____

This book started with a lawsuit over the ownership of a grave site at one of the oldest cemeteries in Texas located on historic Galveston Island. My work for one set of kids from a first dead wife trying to prevent the children of a second wife from burying the second wife in the same grave as the first forced me to visit the cemetery and learn some of its history. Established in 1839 between 40th and 43rd Streets on the main road onto the Island these six small blocks are the final resting place for over 10,000 souls buried in three layers and comprising seven distinct yards within the wrought iron and concrete walls and gates. The first layer holds those who were lost before and during the Great Storm of 1900 which killed over 6,000 people on the island. The entire island was raised and those without relatives or money were lost to the anonymity of the lowest level. In 1932 the Pauper’s Field was filled in and resold as “new plots.” Over the past twenty years some of the broken stones of the first layer have been discovered and brought back to the surface.



The cemetery is filled with elaborate crypts, stones and beautifully carved angels and figures all weathered from almost two centuries of exposure. In the fog this is a very spooky place. Over the years I took my camera to this yard during Fall and Winter fogs and in the Spring when the grounds are overtaken by brilliant wildflowers; life abundant in this granite field of sorrows. Reading the names of the lost, some born in the late 1700s, I saw hints of the hidden and forgotten stories of lost love, regret, heroes unsatisfied with their loss, scoundrels and victims of war, storms, yellow fever and murder.

The dark and foreboding photographs that emerged from my lens inspired me to write this book. Hundreds of hours of research went into learning the history of many of the individuals buried there. I researched the documented past and compared it with local legend finding the horrible truth of so many deaths. Using historical fiction and poetic license The Seven Yards of Sorrow tells the story of these lost souls. Watching over all of them is a mysterious caretaker who has bound these souls within the walls of the yard. Neither heaven nor hell are within their reach as they lament the paths that brought them to this state. In this volume the reader is challenged to live the lives and horrors of these ghosts still lingering from the late 19th and 20th Centuries. The stones and angels, seemingly tortured and corrupted by the veil of dolor in these grounds also engage in a bitter dialogue with the caretaker in a series of poems interlaced amongst the stories of the dead. The ultimate question for the reader as you read these dialogues is deciding which is the Light and which comes from the Dark.


A few selections from the book, which can be purchased in hardcopy here, and electronically, here.

(chorus of the lost 1)

the aroma of faint smoke
bleeds onto the damp stained stone
tears flowing from the faces of cold angels
etching the lines of the years

do they weep for those who sleep
or those who have yet to wake?

a marble child
faced smoothed featureless
clings to the winged arms
of a stoic archangel
motionless markers of loss

sweet child
the century you did not witness
would have brought you here regardless

there are those who sleep
ignorant
like logs in water
ignoring the ebb of the flood

we others walk
awoken from the cascading veil
of dark dreams
to this place
this yard of no hope
heaven and hell beyond entry
souls confined
to the wet gates
of this enclave.

we know the spot
where what we were once
was laid
the symbols of belief mocking us

did you believe
that there was no sin
which could immolate you immortal soul?
did you believe that you would be resurrected
to sunshine and joy?
did you believe?
walk and weep
in the dripping dew

_____________________________________

(the horror)

there is a scientific explanation for everything –

methane building from the wasting of corpses
combined with extreme heat of a Texas summer sun
all contained in a concrete box
erupting
breaking the door once bolstered
with plywood to keep vandals out
there is always an explanation
science can provide

I cannot be contained

vandals
the flood
the wind
the internal pressure of heat and moisture
there is a scientific explanation
for everything

except for me
and now I am out

the body of the dog in the lane of stones
a shriveled stray cat found in the weeds
the drained carcass of the drunk
come to the yard to rest against the crypt walls
all can be explained

I eat because I hunger
I hunger because I eat

everything unexplained
is a truth waiting to be revealed
the ball lightning
hanging in the kitchen
as a child watches his mother
consumed by white light
the voices whispering
in bright vapors
hanging over a moon washed tidal flat
the figure in the doorway
only seen peripherally
dissipating as soon as the head turns
to focus on the blur
bringing the cold shiver

all can be explained

if I was not meant to be
then why am I

each time the sun fails to rise
over the eyes
of a sleeper
each time the night perpetual
swallows another old man
crouching in the corner of a dark room
fearful of the shadows
the light will cast
there is an explanation

there is also
the hand that reaches
to feed on the fear
to lap the liqueur of last breath
the lips that kiss
the trembling face
lusting for daylight
then sucking the essence
of light
from inside

despite the explanations
the robed ones with the black beads
sprinkle holy water over the doorway
rub ashes and ointment
at the re-sealing of the opened door
soothing the nervous onlookers

this void vessel
that binds me again to this yard
will open again
it will always be that way
because I wait behind the door
pushing

all within the realm
of modern explanation
as those who know
avoid the walkway to the repaired crypt

_____________________________________

(the grieved lover)

gentle
I begged them
removing your covered body
from your last bed

they obliged me
until
the undertaker
humorless in the years spent
with the dead
told me

the gentle woman of lace
was a man in her place

he accused
they all accused

how could I not have known

she was so shy with me
she never allowed me
we had separate rooms, beds and bath
after 35 years I did not know
how could I
forcing me to spend my nights
in the red lights of the rooms of sin
to satisfy me

they seemed to understood
this flower of the tea rooms
so prudish
so easy to blush
could hide from me and all men
the true sex
underneath her skirts

the women felt sorry for me
some even offering me
what they thought I longed for
unrequited for so long
only to be rebuffed by my grief
and pronounced shame

I lied
and if damned
I damn the gods
that cursed me
to live here without you

I loved you
loved the feel of you
inside me
the taste of you
I knew who you were
for 35 years
of pretending to the world
of pretending to enjoy
the diversions of Market street

to awaken next to you
birds clattering in the fall leaves
the tall palms singing
with the rising zephyr
was all I ever asked of life

the true curse of my current station
they would not place you in this hallowed ground

I wait to find your face
waiting for me
on the other side of the iron gates