Wednesday, May 25, 2016

ON MUSIC: YOUR NON-FICTION WYTO GUIDE TO SEX, DRUGS, AND MADNESS.

On my way home from work yesterday, I was listening to my Sex, Drugs, and Madness playlist on Spotify, and it got me thinking about how I have certain songs for different moments, events, and emotions in my life. Some of them are serious, some of them make me chuckle, but it’s all there, song by song. I thought it might be fun to list some of the connections I have with certain songs since music plays such a huge and integral part in my creative process. As most of you know, I make playlists for every project that I work on, so while most people think its unhealthy to live in your memories, for me, it’s necessary to make good art.

So here is your non-fiction WYTO guide to Sex, Drugs, and Madness, plus a few more for good measure.

Sex, Drugs and Madness Playlist:

·         “Little Cream Soda” by The White Stripes: This is my alarm so if this is playing we’re either very fond of each other, living together, or going to be best friends.
·         “Second Chance” by Peter Bjorn and John: The first time I listened to this was in a half-built house at like two in the morning and it was proof that sometimes people do deserve a second chance.
·         “Daydream in Blue” by I Monster: “I fell asleep amid the flowers.”
·         “She Used to Love Me a Lot” by Johnny Cash: I used to love him a lot.
·         “Electronic Sunset” by The Scientists of Modern Music: I’m really happy.
·         “Steady, As She Goes” by The Raconteurs: Life goes on.
·          “Maggie McGill” by The Doors: “People down there, really like to get it on.”
·         “The Difference Between Us” by The Dead Weather: I don’t know the fuck to feel about anything.
·         “Lazaretto” by Jack White: I listened to this entire album on my way home after I spent two days being awake and running around Greensburg playing music, writing poetry, and falling in love with my life again.
·         “Come with Me Now” by KONGOS: If this is on, I’m about to make a bad decision and a great memory and I’m probably going to invite you to come along.
·         “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane: “One pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small.
·         “Jolene” by Dolly Parton: This song isn’t my song, but it’s the song of someone who used to be/is very important to me. When I’m going through a major life change, I listen to this, and it reminds me to take life one day at a time...and to chill out.
·         “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix: I have a weak spot for musicians. And great guitar players.
·         “Alabama Song” by The Doors: “Show me the way to the next whiskey bar…”
·         “Kiss Off” by The Violent Femmes: Give me a pack of cigarettes and an open road. I need time to think. And I’m probably going to wake up in the woods on the hood of my car.
·         “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop: I’m going on a road trip and I don’t have to drive!
·         “I Would Walk 500 Miles” by The Proclaimers: I’m going on a road trip and I have to drive.
·          “Captain Jack” by Billy Joel: Summer 2014
·         “No Regrets” by The Von Bondies: The Year 2014.
·         “Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies: But seriously guys…
·         “Kids” by MGMT: After two years of healing, this was the song that was playing when I decided to let myself fall in love again. It didn’t work out, but it’s one of my happiest memories.
·         “Spotlight” by Mutemath: I’m about to take a serious chance on something.
·         “Madness” by Muse: I took a serious chance on something and I have no idea what to do now.
·         “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard: I’ve had WAY too much to drink and I’m reliving Coyote Ugly.

Songs that always tap emotions:
·         “In The Cold, Cold Night” by The White Stripes: My favorite song.
·         “She’s Long Gone” by The Black Keys: My leaving song.
·         “Little Black Submarines” by The Black Keys: My I-miss-you song
·         “Falling" by The Civil Wars: My just-kill-me song
·         “Jekyll and Hyde” by Five Finger Death Punch: My I’m-going-to-kill-you song.
·         Wanted Dead or Alive’ by Bon Jovi: My I-forgive-you song.
·         “Think I’m in Love” by Beck: My I'm-falling-in-love song.

Published Works:
·         “Adrenalize” by In This Moment fueled Hysteria: A Collection of Madness and it’s the song I listen to every time I need to get myself pumped up to do anything with writing.
·         I wrote Mourning Jewelry to Jill Tracy’s albums on repeat.
·         An Exorcism of Angels was inspired by “Touch” by Daughter. This is my sad song. If I’m ever listening to Daughter, chances are, it’s been a bad day and you should bring me wine, walk away, and just let me write. Maybe come back with chocolate later.
·         “Click Click Boom” inspired Brothel because it was playing when I got a super-hot kiss from a then-stranger, now close-friend. Hell, I even wrote a poem about it in the collection.
·         The Eighth came out of me hearing “Baptize Me” by The Exies
·         My WIP collection, The Widow Effect, came out of listening to Nick Cave’s “Jubilee Street” on repeat for a weekend.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

GET INKED OR DIE NAKED: MY TATTOOS AREN'T FOR YOU


There’s a ton of stuff that I can’t wrap my head around, but the stigma behind tattoos is definitely up there. I mean, I get why people don’t want them---that’s a personal choice to make, just like how it is a personal choice for me to choose to get one—but the stereotyping, shaming, and harassment that comes from having them is just one of the most fucked up things that I’ve experienced as an inked person. So let’s have a conversation folks, because I’m about to get real on a few notes here.

·       My decision to get/have tattoos doesn’t involve you in any way, shape, or form. When I’m going under the needle, you’re not feeling the pain. I’m not asking you to pay for them, I don’t care about your opinion about how their going to look in 50 years, and hell, I’m not even asking you to look at them. Their presence on my body is for me. Strictly and simply for me. If their existence makes you upset...walk.

·       Just because I have tattoos doesn’t mean that I’m a delinquent, that I’m a sex addict, or that I’m going through a phase. My tattoos were all carefully chosen for a number of reasons to represent different moments in my life. Even the one that I spontaneously got in L.A.—which has since become one of my favorite memories and tattoo experiences—was something that I’d been rolling around in my head for years. It was spontaneous because I didn’t think it would end up being a matching one that I got with one of my best friends in a random city we chose to meet up in, but you know what? That makes it better.

·       My ink makes me feel sexy as fuck. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s not my problem. And my favorite thing here—especially here—is if you think it’s going to bother me when you tell me that you don’t want to date or have sex with girls who have tattoos….Ha, sorry. I had to catch my breath there from laughing. If you can’t respect me as a woman, as a creative intellect, as a damn independent thinker, then why the HELL would I want you in my life, or better yet, in my bed? I’m a grown-ass woman, and I don’t have time for that. I mean, I’ve never had time for that, but I certainly don’t have time for it now.

·       I look at tattoos as art and as art therapy. If I choose to cope and take note of experiences in my life with something that’s going to make me feel stronger and creative and confident, then that’s my business. I much prefer having something that I can wear every day that reminds me of my strength. And no, a necklace won’t do here. I swap pain for pain, and that’s how it works for me—that’s where the catharsis comes from. Much like my poetry.

·       My art doesn’t affect my ability to write, think, speak, or act professionally. I’ve worked a ton of jobs and wrote a ton of books while I’ve had tattoos and I promise you, they don’t hold me back, folks.  Plus, I’ve chosen to get all my ink in places that I can hide so it really shouldn’t be a problem or affect/effect your ability to work with me.

·       The other part of having tattoos that makes me want to spit is the entitlement that some people have when they see them on my body. Fun fact about me, folks—if you think my ink is an invitation for you to touch me…I promise you it’s not and that you’re going to find that out the hard way. I once had someone lift up my skirt to see the skull on my thigh. Because you know…that’s totally appropriate. I mean, I have scars from my gallbladder surgery on my stomach—want to see those too? Ugh.


So yeah, I recognize that I got a little sassy there, but I’m always amazed when these issues come up because it just seems to me like we all have so much more important things to deal with in the world, than discussing whether or not the ravens on my rib cage are flying too high or symbolizing something evil.  I mean, my ink is beautifully dark because I’m beautifully dark and I’m not ashamed of that. I’m not going to stop writing horror because it makes people think I’m less feminine, and I’m not going to stop writing erotica because it makes some people have a different colored view on me. Same like how I’m not going to stop wearing black because I should have more color in my life. When I put on a pair of shorts and see my dream catcher, or when I put on a bikini and see my flowered-tell-tale-heart, I smile because they are my battle scars, my trophies, my art. I chose to accept those parts of my body and those moments in my life so that I can look back at them and remember, forget, and/or move on.

You know, when I was younger, and even up till my early twenties, I cared so much about what people thought of me. My friends all spiral-curled their hair and did their nails and wore certain clothing brands and I was convinced that I needed to do all of that for people to like me. And then I did. And then those people liked me….and I hated them. I thought I needed to act a certain way to impress men, so I did, and I dated them, and I realized that they were as fake as our relationships felt. So I started dancing (not walking) to the beat of my own drum and I’ve been happier ever since. I like my hair being a wavy mess: it reminds of the summer I spent driving PA highways at night with the windows down. I like wearing a lot of black: it makes me feel colorful and keeps my wild spirit intact. I like having tattoos: it makes my body feel complete and beautiful. So if my tattooed, pale-skinned, black-wearing, spirit bothers you, I promise you, I could honestly care less.
                    
                                                                                                                      With inked skulls and roses,
                                                                                                                              Stephanie M. Wytovich

Monday, May 16, 2016

ON VEGAS: PATTI SMITH, POETRY, AND BLACKJACK MARGARITAS

I’m back from Vegas and I’m sleepy, drinking too much coffee, and watching old horror movies in my pajamas while I catch up on some work, but despite having to acclimate to the time change and come to terms with the amount of laundry I have to do, damn was StokerCon16 a blast. This trip came at such an important and necessary time for me, and as a result, I feel renewed, refreshed, and reenergized after spending time with new and old friends, colleagues, and my SHUWPF family.
 
I got into Vegas Wednesday night and took a cab to The Flamingo Hotel and Casino, where I literally ran to my room for about 30 seconds and then headed out to the strip to meet my girl, Kristin Dearborn (insert official welcome to the RDSP crew here). Her and her lovely aunt and uncle invited me out to dinner with them, and we buffeted at Caesar’s Palace where I think we all got a little too excited and overwhelmed by the food choices (Note: I could eat oysters until I die and I think I tried to). After that, we walked through the Bellagio and checked out the beautiful Chihuly ceiling and the Japanese conservatory—which, wow. Never in a million years would I have thought that a giant pink room could have made me so happy.
We scoped out the fountain show, which I ended up watching a few times during my visit because it was gorgeous, and there always happened to be a transformer behind me, but I digress. After that, Kristin and I called it a night and headed back to our room where we almost assassinated our desk lamp, but alas, stayed out of trouble and decided let it live…which was a mistake.

Thursday was a pretty epic day for me. I woke up, showered, and hit the strip early. I walked from Treasure Island to the Luxor Hotel where I started off with an inhuman-espresso-loaded coffee and ended up with a black jack margarita, because honestly people, if this girl is going to gamble, it’s going to be with her sobriety, not with a handful of cards. But yes, as I was planning my trip to Vegas, I learned that BODIES: THE EXHIBITION was in town, as well as TITANTIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBITION, and there was no way in hell that I was leaving until I experienced them both. I walked through BODIES and took notes and wrote poetry to organs and diseases, and then I made my way onto the Titanic. For those who don’t know me super well, I’ve harbored a serious obsession with the Titanic since I’ve been a little girl (shout out to Vanessa who died with me on the ship in a past life). I had such a strong, emotional reaction to the artifacts that I really can’t recommend it enough to anyone who has interest in this moment of history. I was doing fairly well until I made it to the section of ship with the Grand Staircase, and I ended up standing there for at least a good ten minutes simply just crying. I got to see parts of the ship, belongings of the passengers, and also stand on a deck that mirrored what the night looked like before the ship struck the iceberg. It was a surreal experience and I honestly am so happy that I got to check both of these exhibits off my bucket list, especially because I got to spend some time in Belfast last summer and see where the Titanic was originally docked.
I came back to the hotel after that and worked on my lecture a little bit, but then Arnzen and I headed out to Margaritaville for some blackberry moonshine, that surprisingly didn’t kill me, which I haven’t decided if that’s something to be proud of or not yet (ha). We hung out and caught up for a bit, and then saw Jason and Sunni Brock, Steve Rasnic Tem, and William F. Nolan from across the room, so we crashed their table for a bit and filled the evening with even more laughs. I registered for the conference that night, bumped into a ton of friends in the dealer’s room, and then hung out on the patio until an ungodly hour where I chatted about writing, listened to sasquatch stories, told horrifically embarrassing stories from college that I’ll never live down, and had the pleasure of meeting both Brian Kirk and Andrew Wolter, who are just two of the greatest guys around.
Friday afternoon, I taught my workshop Poetic Justice: Vice and Virtue in Horror Poetry to an absolutely lovely crowd of writers, all of who left with a poem about something/someone that/who haunts them. We all shared work, myself included with a new poem that a guy actually asked me to write about him (silly boy) titled “When I Promised Him Murder,” and the hours flew by and we just had a blast. I kicked back after that with Jennifer Barnes and Mike Arnzen at a trippy Japanese restaurant, and then Jen and I went to see Zumanity where we laughed and blushed for hours and I formed a serious crush on a man with a pink Mohawk who I saw do things with chains and whips that I’m STILL blushing over.
Whew, thank you, Vegas.
Ice cream and madness followed after that as we headed back to the Flamingo. I was out on the patio with everyone until about 4-4:30 that morning, and honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard in my damn life. Joe Borelli (one of my seriously favorite people in the whole world) showed up and I tackled him in the lobby at first sight…same with Vanessa Giunta. I chatted with Chris Marrs and Matt Schwartz about tattoos, drank way too much with my SHU friends, made future plans for NECON, and ended up in a raptor forest with Trevor Firetog. All in all, it was definitely a night not to be missed.
I joined my CHIRAL MAD 3 friends Saturday morning for our book signing, and Marge Simon and I chuckled throughout most of it as we ate jelly beans and talked poetry. I got to chat with Chris Morey and Michael Bailey for a bit, and also sign the nameplates for my novel The Eighth, which will be out this summer from Dark Regions Press. After that, I had lunch with the ever-lovely Maria Alexander where we caught up over margaritas, and then I headed to the editing panel where I sat and chatted with David Morrell (RAMBO), Jason V. Brock, Jodi Rene Lester, and Ellen Datlow.


The award ceremony was lovely, as always, as I shared the night with my RDSP crew. I’m just over-the-moon excited for my dear friends and fellow writers, Tim Waggoner and Lucy Snyder, who won the Horror Writers Association Mentor of the Year Award and the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection. Afterwards, I got to catch up with Aaron Sterns and Linda Addison, and then I spent the majority of my night out on the patio with Robert Payne Cabeen and his lovely wife, Cecile. We chatted about African art and mourning jewelry, fiction and poetry, Patti Smith and The Doors, and it was easily the highlight of my trip and just the best conversation to leave Vegas with.


It was hard saying goodbye to everyone Sunday morning, but the trip was unforgettable, and it helps knowing that next year we get to reunite on THE QUEEN MARY! Before I left, I did a super fun podcast with Joe Borelli, the body and brains behind CREATURE CAST, and then Lucy Snyder and I grabbed a cab and started to make our way back out to the east coast.

Overall…Vegas, baby.

It was pretty much everything that I expected and hoped that it would be, and you know, every time I leave these things, I leave just feeling so blessed that not only do I get to live out my dreams, but that I get to do it with the people that I know and love and always look forward to seeing.
Cheers to you beautiful, dark people.

I’ll see some of you at SHU next month, some of you at NECON this July, and hopefully cross paths with some/most of you before California next year, but if not, I’ll definitely see you then.

With moonshine and spades,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Monday, May 9, 2016

On Teaching Horror in Sin City: Murder, Betrayal, and How to Survive Heartbreak

I’ve been blurbed as “the illegitimate lovechild of Edgar Allan Poe and Sylvia Plath” and referred to as “the bubbliest horror writer in the genre,” and this Wednesday, I’m hopping on a plane to head to Las Vegas where I’m going to teach a classroom of writers about how to murder…Wytovich-style.

Talk about dreams coming true…

Note: Take that middle school English teacher who sent me to the guidance counselor for my violent, and possibly overly sexual, vampire story.

To me, horror is, and has always been, about survival. Yeah, that’s right—I don’t care about the size of your machete, or how you use it; I care about what it’s going to take for me to survive you. See, when I write, a storm is raging in my head as I plan motive, vice, and virtue. I play hour-long games of “what-if” and I pull from memories and personal experiences and then juxtapose them with nightmares and fantasies. I push my characters to the brink of heartbreak and insanity, and then I push them some more. I want my work , my horror, to make people think and question themselves and their morals. Where is your line? At what point will you fight? What has to happen for you to walk away? To me, personally and creatively, there is nothing more terrifying than believing in someone/something wholeheartedly only to find out that beneath their/its person suit (thank you, Hannibal) waits a stone-cold monster. Both myself and my characters have danced with darkness and made love to madness, and some of the most truly horrifying scenarios in my work have come from the relationships where someone trusted or loved a little too much.

Vice and Virtue.
Cause and consequence.

At what point do we/our characters snap?
At what point do our/their hearts break?

Stephen King has a quote that says: “Alone. Yes, that's the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn't hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym.” And he’s right. As humans, we all want to connect with someone, and often the journey to doing so is full of shattered glass and bullet wounds. Writing about the bad, about the tragic, is cathartic—almost like putting a tourniquet on in an attempt to stop the bleeding. It lets you sort out anger and betrayal, and it helps you understand pain and fear. Writing horror poetry is a visceral, raw experience where you’re honed in on emotion and image, waltzing with the beautiful grotesque.

Vice and Virtue.
Death and survival.

At what point do we spread our legs to passion?
At what point do we shed blood?

In my workshop, I’m asking you to dance the dance with me. We’re going to talk Freud and Bataille. We’re going to write and explore why Edgar Allan Poe only felt that he was truly insane in the moments where his heart was touched. We’re going to look at art, and project ourselves into stories and paintings where we’ll perform psychological autopsies to decipher the sweet spot between our pleasure and our suffering, between the manifestation and exorcism of our emotions.

We’ll create characters with love and motive.
We’ll build monsters and see what happens when they form relationships.
And then at the end…we’ll see who is strong enough to survive.

Vice and Virtue.
Kill or be killed.

Between you and me, though… I always bet on the underdog.
They love to burn the world down.
 

See you in Sin City.
-Stephanie M. Wytovich

Sunday, May 1, 2016

MY CONVERSATION WITH ANDY WARHOL

It rained most of yesterday in Pittsburgh, but I’m actually quite okay with that.  Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of journaling and self-reflection and the overcast day combined with some hot coffee and my novel edits made for a pretty chill Saturday. Plus, I tend to find rain inspiring and calming, and so at some point in the afternoon when I took a break from editing, I put on a sweatshirt and a hat, and I got in my car to go spend some time with Andy Warhol.

Yes, most of you are probably aware that The Andy Warhol Museum is in the North Shore, and that it’s an amazing collection dedicated to Warhol’s life, but yesterday wasn’t about that. January was when I went there for the (?) time to take a guided tour and do a screen-printing workshop during residency, and April was when I went there with Heidi and Jason Miller to talk art and writing and sit in The Velvet Underground room and take an active part in the Warhol experience. But yesterday, yeah, yesterday was about walking to his grave and having a chat with the artist.
See, one of my favorite things to do in life is to walk in cemeteries. I find them both quiet and loud at the same time, and there’s some so relaxing and otherworldly about being in them that I just feel completely at peace. I wrote my poetry collection, Mourning Jewelry, while hanging out in graveyards, and I think they are a great place to open up a conversation about life, your beliefs, and most importantly, your dreams and frustrations.

Warhol has always been a huge influence on me, even before I majored in Art History as an undergraduate at Seton Hill University. There’s something about Warhol, whether it be his dedication to the experience of art, or his forward-thinking commercialism that revolutionized the industry, that proved that the man was a force to be reckoned with. He could draw, he could paint, he could sculpt, and most importantly, he see beyond the craft and focus on the concept while still delivering a message through his art that threw people off balance. I like that he was unique, that he wasn’t afraid to be himself, and to own himself and his brand. He wore outfits that made him happy, he took on projects that let him have fun, he partied with bands and artists that showed the same love of life that he did. Warhol, to me, represents someone who never lost that love of imagination and excitement for their dreams, and that’s something that I always want to have.


So I went to his grave and sat down in the rain while I listened to The Velvet Underground through my headphones. Andy’s grave is covered with flowers, and candles, and Campbell’s tomato soup cans, and it’s hard not to smile when you see it. I put my hand on his headstone and thanked him for being himself, for being in Pittsburgh and rocking our city, for wearing his crazy blonde hair like he was permanently in a wind storm, for creating a cloud room, for taking screen shots of some of my favorite artists so that I could see them as themselves rather than as the idealized versions the media portrayed them as. I thanked him for covering The Factory in silver, for experimenting with life in a way that made him come into himself, and then I thanked him for inspiring me, for teaching me that words and art have a lethal impact when used together. I thanked him for the tenacity he gave me, and for teaching me that sometimes you just have to show up with a portfolio full of work and run around the world showing it to people until they see you for who you are.
 
Warhol once said, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself,” and he was right. If you want something, if you want to change how you feel, or be something different, that’s on you. The world isn’t going to hand you success or happiness or fame—it doesn’t work that way. If you want to do something that you’ve never done before, you need to take a chance and do something different. Go somewhere you’ve never gone before. Break the pattern that’s been holding you back. Be the person that you keep telling yourself that you want to be.

It’s that simple and it’s that difficult.
But hey, that’s what art is about, baby.

-Stephanie M. Wytovich