Thursday, June 30, 2016

HWA POETRY SHOWCASE III: MEET CHAD STROUP


Hi Everyone,

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting interviews with the poets whose work was selected in the top five for the third installment of the HWA Poetry Showcase. This week, I welcome Chad Stroup to THE MADHOUSE. 

How did you hear about the poetry showcase?

I can’t remember where I heard about the first volume because that was before I was a member of the HWA, but I most likely found out about the submission call for this most recent edition through the HWA Facebook group.

What  is the title of you poem? Why did you decide to submit that particular piece?

"Nuclear Winter Kiss." I decided to submit it for a couple of reasons: 1. It was the only poem I was writing at the time that hadn’t already been published elsewhere and 2. I honestly felt it was one of the strongest poems I’d ever written. It was dark without fitting into a neat box and it just felt so equally right and wrong, if that makes sense. I was so ecstatic when I found out it was worthy of being a featured poem. I can pat myself on the back all day long for a job well done, but when people I’ve never met before recognize it as special I feel like I must be doing something right.

3.   What is your process like for writing poetry?

Usually I come up with a title first, then just start letting my mind go wild. I’ve started developing sort of a signature visual style with many of my poems, so I often shape and arrange them based on what feels right. Sometimes my poems are abandoned short story ideas that I rip apart until only the core remains, which is how "Nuclear Winter Kiss" came to be. Sometimes the opposite is true. In the case of my upcoming novel, I wrote poems about all of the primary characters first, then the story started pouring out.

4.   Who are some of your poetic influences?

I’ll probably get publicly flogged for this, but I honestly don’t read much poetry. In  
fact, the only poems I’ve read in recent years were the poems in the other editions of the HWA Poetry Showcase (and I’ll certainly be reading them all in the new one as well). Though I’ve written and/or published a decent amount of poetry (perhaps even enough to do some sort of collection at this point), I’m predominantly a fiction writer, so that is where my literary influences lie. However, music is and always has been an enormous part of my life, and the best lyricists are also poets in my opinion. With that in mind, I can list influences like Steven Patrick Morrissey, Peter Murphy, Ian Curtis, Nick Cave, Darby Crash, Nick Blinko, Elizabeth Fraser (possibly the most brilliantly weird lyricist of all time), Rick Froberg, Jerry A., and Guy Picciotto.

Who are you reading now and who/what are you looking forward to reading for the remainder of the year?

I just finished The Fireman by Joe Hill and I’m about to start reading The Night Marchers by Daniel Braum. My Need-to-Read pile is as large as always, but I’m looking forward to reading new books by Paul Tremblay, Kristopher Triana, and Jeremy P. Bushnell (none of which I even have in my physical pile yet…yikes!), as well as a couple of older books by David J. Schow I just scored.

Are you currently working on anything that you want to announce? Has anything of yours recently been published that you would like to talk about?

Later this year, Grey Matter Press will be releasing my debut novel Secrets of the Weird. All I’m going to say is that I promise this book is not like anything else out there and I’m very excited for it to be unleashed upon the world. I also have a new short story called “Acquired Taste” coming out in July, published in a New Zealand-based e-zine called Capricious. The story is very dark, strange, and hopelessly dystopian.


BIO: Chad Stroup received his MFA in Fiction from San Diego State University. His short stories have been featured in anthologies like Splatterlands and Creature Stew, and his poetry has appeared in the first three volumes of the HWA Poetry Showcase. Secrets of the Weird, Stroup’s debut novel, is forthcoming from Grey Matter Press. Visit Subvertbia, a home for some of his short fiction, poetry, and reviews at http://subvertbia.blogspot.com/, and drop by his Facebook page as well. https://www.facebook.com/ChadStroupWriter.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

ON RETURNING: IRELAND TO PITTSBURGH TO SETON HILL


It’s been a crazy first week back, but it’s been full of opportunity, experience, friendship, and love. My second week in Dublin was a bit more relaxed as I spent a lot of time just walking around the city, drinking coffee (and yes, sometimes it had whiskey in it) and writing. I wrote a lot of poetry on this trip, and at one point, I got seriously turned around in the city, and ended up in a leather shop where I bought a beautiful briefcase to carry all my books and poems back to the states in. I was lucky enough to steal poet, Mary O’Donnell away for a bit for some coffee and lunch before her reading, and I had the pleasure of hearing another Joycean lecture on Bloomsday from Irish scholar, James Heaney.

Bloomsday in Dublin is always a treat because the entire city comes together to celebrate James Joyce (particularly Ulysses), and it’s just marvelous to see literature being supported and celebrated that way. I walked around the southern part of Dublin as we read excerpts from the novel, drank burgundy wine and ate gorgonzola sandwiches. I saw sights from the novel, and learned some more about Yeats and Wilde that made me both smile and chuckle.

The last day was hard for me because I’ve never been good at saying goodbyes, but part of me knows that I’ll make it back to Ireland someday. Having said that, there was no way that I was sleeping away my last night in the city. I went to Lillie’s Bordello, a nightclub in Dublin, and hung out there as I danced the night away with friends. We drank, we laughed, and then we accidently found our way into a hidden piano bar where I sang The Doors and Bon Jovi at the top of my lungs until about 5 a.m. When I walked back on Trinity’s campus, the sun was up and shining, and everything was quiet. I’ll never forget that moment.

If there was a more perfect way to leave the city, I don’t know what it could be.

After I came back home, there was (and continues to be) a lot of loose ends that I need to tie up before I leave my position, but it helped that I spent a good portion of my week with great company and lots of wine. Friday brought around the Seton Hill University Mass Author Book signing, and it was an absolute blast. I got to spend time with my RDSP crew (Jennifer Barnes, John Edward Lawson, Matt Betts, Kristin Dearborn, Mike Arnzen, Kathleen Taylor-Kollman, Hanna Gribble to name a few) and connect with my old classmates and friends and colleagues. Despite being terribly late, I even got to catch dinner and dessert with my graduate mentor, William H. Horner, and that, as can be expected, was filled with lots of laughs and great conversation. I’ve been really overwhelmed lately, and there are just no words to describe how it feels to walk on that campus and be reunited with my tribe, my family, my absolute favorite people. I never get to spend enough time with them, and last night when we all attended the wine social at The Supper Club was proof of that. I hugged everyone as much as I could, I told my friends that I loved them, and then I left with tears in my eyes and love in my heart because there is nothing more beautiful than being surrounded by people who you love and care about. To SHUWPF—you all are my family and I adore you. My life is better because all of you are in it.

In a few weeks, I’ll be heading off to NECON to see more of my writer tribe. I’m especially looking forward to this trip because I couldn't attend last year and I can’t wait for the memories that it’s going to create. In the meantime, though, I’ll be working on restructuring some things in my life, writing everything and anything from fiction to poetry to essays. I'll also be editing, and spending a lot of time outside walking around and collecting my thoughts as I continue to launch Brothel and get ready for the debut of my novel, The Eighth. I’m excited for this next chapter in my life, but I expect things to be crazier than usual for me in just the most wonderful of ways. I’m looking forward to new adventures, and I feel pretty confident that while my life always tends to be interesting, that these next few months are going to be exceptionally fun and entertaining.
With love and an open heart,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Sunday, June 12, 2016

ON TRAVELING: TRINITY COLLEGE, WHISKEY, AND SEAGULLS THAT SOUND LIKE THEY'RE ALWAYS DYING

I’ve been in Ireland for a little over a week now with Carlow’s MFA program and I’ve been using my free time to run around the city, journal, and get to know myself again. I’ve been inside a castle, stood outside of Francis Bacon’s artist studio, had tea in the Wicklow mountains, and said prayers at Glendalough. I’ve been sampling whiskey, taking walks and sharing stories with new and old friends, rooting for Poland against North Ireland, and singing Bon Jovi songs in pubs. I saw where Bram Stoker got married, I bought a first edition of Rosemary’s Baby, I attended the Dublin Literary Awards, and I looked at a piece from The Egyptian Book of the Dead that detailed the weighing of the heart ceremony.


I’ve laughed a lot.
I’ve cried in jewelry stores.
I’ve made wishes in rivers and lit candles in churches.
And I’ve fallen in love with the idea of being lost.


You see, this year has been exceptionally transitional for me: mentally, emotionally, and physically. I worked our Pittsburgh residency in January, left for Los Angeles (AWP) in March, followed that up with a trip to Las Vegas (StokerCon) in May, and now I’m sitting in my room at Trinity College in Dublin writing this note to all of you. For those of you who don’t know, I’ll be leaving Carlow at the end of month. It’s a really bittersweet moment for me, but I have a lot of wonderful opportunities/plans lined up, some of which I can’t exactly divulge quite yet, but will when I have the chance. Working for this program has been such a blessing, and the people I’ve met because of it, both in Pittsburgh and in Ireland alike, will always be special to me, because each and every one of them has opened my eyes up to a different style of writing, reading, thinking, and being. It’s truly been a gift and one that I will always, always treasure. But with everything that’s happened this year in both my personal and professional life, it’s important for me to reevaluate a lot of things in my life when it comes to where I am, where I’m going, and where I want to be. If you asked me a year ago where I would be today, my answer would have been completely different, and in a lot of ways, that’s heartbreaking, but it’s also beautiful, too, because I feel more at peace with myself in this moment than I ever have before, and I realize that a big part of that is because I’ve started using my voice.


Quietly, at first. But it’s getting louder.
Even if it still shakes sometimes.


So I’ve been standing at the River Liffey and watching the sunset. I’ve been drinking coffee in cafes half-asleep as I scribble poetry in my notebook. I’ve been carrying around a meditation stone to remind myself to breathe, and I put my hand in the lake at Glendalough to feel the energy of the space. I walk around Dublin thinking about my doctoral application and how I’m writing essays and filling out paperwork to get funding to move overseas. I want to teach. I want to write. I want to wake up in cities where I don’t know the language, and I want to sleep in beds, on benches, and on campsites where I can see the sun rise in different parts of the world. I want my body’s internal clock to be so confused that I sleep when I need to, eat when I’m hungry, and live the life that I promised the high-school version of me that I would.


I grew up in a small town where hardly anyone ever leaves. I dated my high school sweetheart up until graduate school, and I lived such a sheltered life that I didn’t know anything about anything, including who I was. I had barely traveled, I couldn’t do anything on my own, and I was so afraid to make decisions based on what I wanted that I spent a good portion of my life miserable and walking on eggshells. Graduate school helped to change that. So did living on my own. But these past two years with Carlow have taught me to open my eyes and my heart to new possibilities and new places. So yeah. I don’t know where I’m going to end up a year from now. It might be back in school, it might be selling cemetery plots, it might be writing poetry in Galway. But the important thing here is that I’m fine, and I’m happy, and I’m so excited for everything that is ahead of me because there’s this terrifying excitement that I’m holding in my hands that is telling me that I can do and go and be anything and everything that I want.

I don’t even have to say silver lining, because I’m over this perpetual darkness that’s been clouding my vision all this time. Life is a journey-it sounds cliche, but I think we forget that some time—and it’s not meant to be easy and it’s not supposed to be static or lived in one place. I have adventure in my eyes and an imagination that keeps me up most nights because all I want to do is tell stories and travel and collect moments. I want to take pictures. I want to kayak down rivers. I want to eat food and drink beer that I can’t even pronounce, and when I do finally come to the page at night, I want to smile because I’m in Amsterdam, or London, or leaving my classroom in Pittsburgh, or sending a new manuscript to Raw Dog Screaming Press.


I want to write letters to my friends who live across the country.
I want to stand in history and witness how it’s changing me.
I want to celebrate the fact that I’ve been in Italy and Ireland, and that I’m collecting stamps in my passport.


Everything has a way of working itself out.
I’m just along for the ride so I can write it all down.



With midnight walks and open windows,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Sunday, June 5, 2016

GUEST POST: THE GIRL IN THE GLASS BOX BY ANDI ADAMS

Hi Everyone!

Today I'm hosting my lovely friend, Andi Adams (Danielle Madafferi) in THE MADHOUSE to chat about dark fantasy, Snow White, and her upcoming debut novel, THE GIRL IN THE GLASS BOX. Enjoy her words and be sure to check out her novel this month!

                                                                                                                            With poison and apples,
                                                                                                                            -Stephanie M. Wytovich
GUEST POST:

It's funny to think that a story that began as a comedic fictional memoir based on Cinderella ended up as a YA dark fantasy based on Snow White. Even when I'm trying to be funny, it has the tendency to turn dark – go figure! And just to set the record straight, I started writing this story back in 2011, before Once Upon A Time, before Snow White and the Huntsman, before Mirror, Mirror. Maybe I'm psychic to know this particular fairy tale would become such a trend. (I wish the lotto numbers would hit me the same way, but I digress.) Actually, I avoided all interpretations of the story so I wouldn't be influenced by any of them. Not an easy thing to do – especially when Chris Hemsworth is involved! (Cue swoon.)

Either way, I've always been drawn to fairy tales, ever since I was a child. I think we all are to some degree. We all like the fantastical elements, and the way these stories give us hope for our own happily-ever-after. Funnily enough, Snow White was never my favorite. As I mentioned, this started as Cinderella (which oddly enough, is also not my favorite. Weird.) But I see many similarities between the two stories - two women who are put in charge of household chores and domestic responsibilities while the rest of their world is tumbling down. Cinderella grows up in a household of women and it is because of her position in the family she is cast aside as insignificant. But in Snow White, she runs away to find refuge from an abusive past and is given the menial task of taking care of the cooking and cleaning for a group of strangers. Why is that? Because she's the only girl?

Hmm… well, even though she takes up the same role in my story, her motives and its reception are different. They have greater significance in the overall story. I guess that's where this idea initially took root in my mind. It started as the exploration of characters whose motivations are ambiguous. I wanted to give them definition and consequence.

Because of this, I was driven to explore how gender roles and expectations help to shape the women in my version of Snow White. Both, in many ways are captives in their own worlds, even though they are both of high-born nobility. For as much money, resources, and education they have, they both comment often about their lack of freedom and what it means to be free. This is not to say that this is a feminist novel, per se. But it does strive to explore the concept of freedom and how it shifts even within the confines of a household where everything else remains equal.

So what is dark fantasy? The short answer (at least in my mind) is that it's in the same vein as Game of Thrones à la George R. R. Martin - pretty much no one is safe. (Clearly, this is not your typical fairytale.) Things happen. Poop hits the proverbial fan and sometimes, happily-ever-after isn't realistic. I've always loved fairytales, but been annoyed that the characters have no back story; they're all so one-dimensional. I mean, when you're playing with archetype characters, I guess that's the nature of the beast, but I've always wondered how did the characters get that way. The psychological development and shifts of a character are far more interesting to me than even the stories themselves.
I conceptualized the narrative to be a way to shed light on how Disney got it wrong. (Not to say there's anything wrong with Disney – I'm a HUGE HUGE fan! Just to set the record straight.) So what I mean by that is Disney presented a flowery, watered-down, child-friendly version of a very dark truth. Some of the story was right (which is why I kept in some unifying details), but most of it was incomplete.


Here are some questions I asked myself while constructing the story: Why does the queen resent Snow White so greatly? From where does that hatred come? (I imagine it's not really about the girl, it's about what she represents – a life the queen never had herself.) Why is 'beauty' such a valuable commodity in her eyes? Why does the queen rely so heavily on the opinion of that mirror? Where did it come from? (Mirror – "Glass Box" – idea of being trapped - get it??) Why does Snow White talk to animals? Seems a bit mental to me. (Even though, truth be told, I have had some magnificent debates with my dogs.) And what is the deal with Prince Charming kissing a dead girl? WTF?!? Gross. There are many things we are asked to buy into without any justification. My goal in writing this tale was to fill in some of those gaps.

I think this, above all, is what makes my story different than other fairytale rewrites from the villains' perspective. Many times, we see how the villain has been misunderstood and misrepresented, but everything else essentially stays the same. In this tale, everyone has a story. Even the princess who, in this case, starts out a spoiled brat - a character you'd be hesitant to root for. This tale strives to show the parallels of humanity and how behind an evil act (or even a good one) are all of the circumstances that brought it to fruition.

I really believe that. No one is born evil. Psychologists and doctors and brain specialists and whoever else may disagree (mind you I don't have a degree in any of those fields), but in my heart of hearts, I believe we're all born clean slates. We are defined by our choices, our environment, our influences, our disappointments, and our triumphs. Each and every moment shapes us and has the potential to change our path. And happily-ever-after is rarely so cut and dry.



Author Bio:

Andi Adams writes, teaches, gets excited about performing random acts of kindness, invents words, and talks with strangers, as often as she can. She loves learning about the world, about others, and about herself, and uses that knowledge to write realistic fiction – everything from YA Fantasy to Women’s Lit. She has a passion for travel, for all things Harry Potter (of course!), and for her two dogs, who are also incidentally her biggest fans. The Girl in the Glass Box is Andi’s first novel.
The Girl in the Glass Box will be available through Amazon for ebook and print-on-demand, with a release date of June 7, 2016. Check out Firefly Hill Press' website for links and more info on upcoming releases at www.fireflyhillpress.com.