Thursday, June 22, 2017

Seton Hill University Mass Book Signing Tomorrow (Friday, June 23)

Hi Everyone--

I'll be signing books tomorrow, Friday June 23rd from 7-9:30 p.m. at Seton Hill University. In addition to Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, and An Exorcism of Angels, I'll also have my Bram Stoker award-winning collection, Brothel, available, in addition to my debut novel, The Eighth.

Please see below for the official press release.
I hope to see you there!

Public Book Signing Hosted by Seton Hill University June 23

GREENSBURG, Pa. – More than 40 authors will participate in the In Your Write Mind book-signing event on Friday, June 23, from 7-9:30 p.m. at Seton Hill University’s Performing Arts Center, 100 Harrison Ave., Greensburg. The event is part of the 18th annual Writing Popular Fiction Workshop, “In Your Write Mind,” sponsored by the WPF alumni group.  The event is free and open to the public.

All authors participating in the In Your Write Mind book-signing event are published writers who are current students, alumni, faculty members or guests of Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program. The authors write in a variety of genres, including mystery, romance, young adult, and science fiction.

Authors of note include Victoria Thompson and Jen Brooks.

“I love participating in the IYWM booksigning each year,” said Thompson, bestselling author of the Gaslight Mystery Series. “What a great opportunity to talk with fans and see what other writers are doing.”

Jen Brooks, author of In A World Just Right, which was named one of VOYA's top YA science fiction/fantasy/horror books of the year, says, "I love this event because the authors exhibit a truly wide variety of genres and publishers, and all have a local connection through SHU. I'll be signing books, talking writing, and listening to readers brainstorm what worlds they would create, if they had the power.”

Seton Hill’s unique Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program teaches students to write marketable novels in popular genres like mystery, romance, science fiction, horror and fantasy. Additional specialties include literature for children and adolescents, and cross-genre blends like romantic suspense or young adult mysteries. Students attend two weeklong, on-campus residencies each year to master the core elements of fiction writing and effective marketing and to gain inspiration from faculty mentors and special guests, all published authors in genre fiction. Established authors mentor students one-on-one as they work toward completing a market-ready manuscript from home. Readings, classes and online discussion about the history, trends and techniques of genre fiction add depth to the student's experience.   For more information about the Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill, visithttp://fiction.setonhill.edu or contact Seton Hill’s Office of Graduate and Adult Studies at 724-838-4209.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Five Ways NOT to Market Your Book

It’s no secret that marketing your book is hard, especially when the market is already saturated with novelists, both traditional and self-published, playing the part of the artist, the agent, and the publicist. The good news is that there are infinite ways to market your author platform and your product while still maintaining your personality and morals, but there are a handful of mistakes that most first-time writers make when trying to market their book to a publisher or to their community.

  • Don’t mass-market your book to your email list. Email is already a dodgy subject with most people because they feel like they get too much. Spamming their account won’t play favorably for you, and it will most likely lose you a potential reader right of the bat. Instead, start a newsletter or add an email sign-up option to your website and give people the option of whether or not they want to receive information about your writing directly in their inbox.
  • Don’t private message all your Facebook friends that you have a new book out. In addition to this being extremely unprofessional, it’s also distasteful because it’s obvious that it’s a mass message and again, it wasn’t prompted by the reader himself. A way to counteract that is to host a book party on Facebook and invite your friends and family to that instead. This gives the information without making it seem forced, and it also gives them to option to join or not, while at the same time, making them feel a part of something.
  • Don’t make your book the first reason you contact someone. If someone gave you their business card at a conference or convention, or invited you to be their friend on social media, don’t write them and include all the information about book and writing career. Instead, email them and say that it was nice to meet them—include the location you met them at—and that you look forward to seeing and chatting with them again. If you have a website, feel free to include it in your signature as a way to get the information out as an option without appearing forceful.
  • If the publisher is not accepting manuscripts, don’t send yours regardless of what their guidelines say. An editor’s time is very far and few between, and if a writer isn’t able to follow the guidelines for that they’re looking for, changes are they will pass on the manuscript without as much as a second glance. If you’re interested in submitting but a house is closed to submissions, feel free to send them an inquiry. Questions are always welcomed!
  • Don’t hand out copies of your manuscripts unless someone asks for it. If you want to have your book on your table and available if someone would like it free, that’s fine, but don’t put it in someone’s hands, leave it in the bathroom, or on top of someone’s car.

More often than not, the best way to market and sell your book is to ask yourself what you personally look for as a consumer. How do you find out about new releases? What tactics have worked for your friends in the business? If someone tried to market their art to you this way, would you be responsive to it?  Once you answer those questions, do what feel right, and most creative, to you. Remember, selling your book is a great way to network in addition to get and maintain readers, so be confident in your product while selling it in a kind and respectful way. Your future sales will be sure to thank you!

Monday, May 8, 2017

5 CHILDREN'S BOOKS FOR KIDS WHO LOVE THE FANTASTIC

A week or so ago, I worked in the children's department of Barnes and Noble for the night and I had a blast reading with the kids. It was refreshing to see so many of  my old favorites still on the shelves, and what was particularly cool for me was the amount of books that now catered to children who had more magical interests. And yes, right now I know you're all shaking your head, but I'm serious! When I was little, I wasn't a fan of princess books or your regular run-of-the-mill little girl books. I wanted to read about monsters and witches and fantastical creatures, and to prove that, even my I Spy book was the spooky night version! Having said that, other childhood favorites were: Room on the Broom, and Strega Nona. And I'd be absolutely remiss if I didn't add my all time favorite children's book (which I still own and keep with me in my apartment): The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.

Since it's been a while since I've read any of these books though, I wanted to catch up on what was out on the market these days, and to my excitement, I found quite a few that would have worked well in the Wytovich Household:

Here are my five recommendations this week:

Hey! That's MY Monster: This adorable little picture book talks about how the boy is upset that the monster under his bed--who helps him sleep by not letting him get out of bed at night--is moving on to now help his younger sister.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend: What I loved so much about this book is the spin that it took on the imaginary friend story. Usually we have a child that is creating one, or looking for one, but in this case, the imaginary friend hasn't been assigned a child yet, so he goes looking for his best friend himself.


The Chupacabra Ate the Candlelabara: A fun book that teaches cultural legends in addition to relaying the message that just because you've been taught to be afraid of something, doesn't mean that it's scary. It put a lot of emphasis on learning to get someone before passing judgment.

Vampirina at the Beach: This would have been perfect for me as a child, especially because I'm so pale and was already being nicknamed vampira from a young age. This little number shows the whole monster gang having a fun day at the beach. The art is amazing, as are the characters and the way they interact with one another.

Dragons Love Tacos: This one made me laugh because the entire premise of the book is how much dragons truly love to eat tacos...as long as they aren't spicy. The best part? A sequel to it just came out, too!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

STUCK ON GLUE: AN INTERVIEW WITH CONSTANCE ANN FITZGERALD

Good morning, fiends!

Today in the MADHOUSE, I'm sitting down with Constance Ann Fitzgerald, author of Glue, and all around badass woman. Fitzgerald is the editor/curator of Ladybox Books, a zine maker, and the author of the bizarro novella Trashland A Go-Go. She grew up in central Arizona and has spent the last decade crawling northwest. She currently resides in Portland, Oregon where her happiness is wholly contingent upon whether or not there is a dog in the room.

When I first heard about Glue, I was really excited because everyone kept saying this book will break you and I love a good book that peels back the skin and reveals one's scars. Glue certainly didn't disappoint, and not only was I completely taken with it, I sat down and read it in one night during a thunderstorm. It was heartbreakingly beautiful and I truly can't recommend it enough.


"Glue is a meditation on grief and addiction, the loss of loved ones, and our incredible power to rebuild ourselves after everything falls apart. Heartbreaking, honest, and all-too-human, Glue is one of the most powerful books of the year."

As someone who has gotten more and more interested with creative nonfiction lately, I wanted to interview Fitzgerald about her process, how she collected her memories and translated them to the page, and furthermore, what writing this did for her, and for her readers. I hope you find her answers as inspiring and beautiful as I do, and I hope that you treat yourself to her book. You won't be disappointed and I'd be willing to bet that you'll find something out about yourself between the pages, too.

With coffee and honesty,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

WYTOVICH: Tell us about your novella. Is it based on true events, and if so, how was it to write about something of that magnitude that is so close to the chest? Furthermore, when did you know that you were ready to write about the subject at hand?

FITZGERALD: Unfortunately, yes, it's a true story. At least as true as it can be from the perspective of one person. Writing about it was difficult, but therapeutic and necessary. It's all I could think about for years whenever I wasn't actively doing something, so I started writing my thoughts down in notebooks and (mostly) in the notes section of my iPhone. 

I never said "this hurts, I'm going to write a book about it." I just realized one day how much I had written about it and that I had enough to compile into a short piece. I didn't know how long or what it was even going to be. Originally it was going to include some other subjects too, but I realized those were separate projects and really would have taken power away from this story that really needed to be the main narrative.

WYTOVICH: I love that you chose to write the story in second person point-of-view. How and why did you decide to write in that viewpoint over the others?

FITZGERALD: I wrote Glue in second person because that's how I write to myself when I'm writing in my journal. That's how I've written to myself most of my life. When it's just for me, it can sometimes drift back and forth between first and second person, but it's predominantly second. While piecing this together, I only had to adjust a few sections tense wise, which I really only did to make it cohesive. I figured it would place the reader smack in the middle of the events because it was happening to YOU, the reader, and not to ME, the author.

It also allowed me to put a little distance between myself and the story so I could actually spit out some of the more difficult scenes. 

WYTOVICH: How did you decide on the title, Glue


FITZGERALD: Man, titling this book was really fucking hard. I had no idea what to call it. Even my editor, Cameron Pierce, who is a title wizard, didn't know what to call it. We batted around and rejected several titles, and were in the middle of edits, when I was walking to work and listening to Nirvana's "Dumb." 

I've loved Nirvana since I was a kid because my older sister was a big fan.
The part of the song where Kurt sings "my heart is broke, but I have some glue" played and I realized that there's an entire section of the book that's kind of a riff on that idea.

Originally I wanted to just use the full lyric and make it one of those super long titles. While tossing that idea around with J. David Osborne at a reading a couple days later, he suggested that I shorten it and just call it "Glue,” which is really for the best since Courtney Love/the Cobain Estate is pretty litigious and apparently the copyright laws about lyrics are kinda tricky. 

I'm too poor to get sued.

WYTOVICH: What was your favorite part of the story to create and explore? Did you find any of it cathartic to write about?

FITZGERALD: I guess my favorite part was writing the crazy stories my dad tells me because they are insane, but 100% true. 

I also really loved writing about my parent's wedding. I was looking at some photos and picturing them and their special day and their love and no matter how sad it makes me, it makes me ten times happier because they had it. They found each other and built a really great life together and I think that's really the best we can ever ask for. 

Writing all of it was cathartic. It was difficult sometimes, but even those parts felt a little better once I'd written them out. 


WYTOVICH: What part in the story was the most difficult to write?

FITZGERALD: Almost all of it. Pretty much any scene where anyone is in a hospital bed stuffed with tubes. If I never have to see another person i love in that state it will be too soon. Going back to that and "being there" again to write about it was less than desirable. 

WYTOVICH: What does this book mean to you on a personal level, and what has the response been with your readership?

FITZGERALD: Not to sound totally up my own ass or anything, but on a personal level this book means absolutely everything to me. The fact that I get to share this with people and that anyone wanted to publish my bummer of a book means so much. I'm very grateful for that.

I've seen instances of others telling their more difficult stories and it made me feel less alone and I kept saying that if I could do that for even one person, it would be worth broadcasting my guts. 

The response has been incredible. I've gotten really great reviews and that's more than I could have asked for. But more than that it's the private messages from people telling me they cried or they know how this feels, or thanking me for making them feel less alone in their grief, and some of my favorite authors telling me how much they liked it. That kind of thing means more to me than sales or any starred reviews. 

My absolute favorite response was my dad calling me and telling me he spotted a typo and then calling back half an hour later to tell me to send him a few more copies. Then he took a break from reading it because it was obviously difficult for him. (I called him before it was released and warned him about it because I didn't want to blindside him with it.) When he finished it he called and told me I did a good job.

And then asked me to not write any more sad books.

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

FITZGERALD: I think that most difficult part of my process is motivation. I can be really undisciplined. I'm not someone who sets aside time to write every day and does it. I've tried that, but if there isn't anything there then I just end up hating whatever I force out or dicking around on Facebook. 

But once I have something in mind, when I have a goal and I know what I'm doing it flows out and it's all I can think about and lord help whoever is trying to come between me and putting down those words. 

I think the most enjoyable part is the feeling of accomplishment when whatever I’m working on is done and I start sharing it with my inner circle or writing group to get feedback. I enjoy seeing what other people think I meant vs what I was actually saying and seeing how they match up.

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

FITZGERALD: That's such a tricky question! 

I've been focusing on creative nonfiction lately, so what I do now is really just try to be honest. I want to create a distinct scene for the reader and show them exactly what I thought and felt through somewhat sparse prose. 

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

FITZGERALD: Influences include but are not limited to: 
  • Juliet Escoria 
  • Leesa Cross-Smith 
  • Amy Hempel 
  • Elizabeth Ellen 
  • Kevin Maloney 
  • Samantha Irby 
  • Chelsea Martin 


Rituals are tricky because sometimes I get possessed and just start spitting words. When I'm doing it on purpose it's usually my cluttered desk facing the window, a giant mug of coffee, maybe some snacks, and some music that is good/I love, but not too distracting. It varies depending on my mood and what I'm working on. Offhand I really enjoy writing to The Ravonettes - "Lust Lust Lust" and The Velvet Teen - "Elysium"


WYTOVICH: What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

FITZGERALD: GUH. I actually ended up reshelving some because the pile was getting crazy, but some of what still remains: 
  • Angel Meat - Laura Lee Bahr 
  • Person/a - Elizabeth Ellen 
  • Door - Leah Noble Davidson
  • Gutshot - Amelia Grey 
  • Bang - Henry Rollins 
  • The collected works of Scott McClanahan vol 1 
  • Girls to the Front - Sara Marcus 
  • Something To Do With Self Hate - Brain Allen Ellis 
  • Freak Show - James St. James 
  • Currently reading: A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness - Amy L Clark/Elizabeth Ellen/Kathy Fish/Claudia Smith 


WYTOVICH: What is next in store for your readers?

FITZGERALD: I'm working on a collection of stories about the other side of my family because they are a batch of completely insane and awful women (and my sister, who is a gem), some poetry zines, and whatever else burbles out in the meantime. 

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

FITZGERALD: I think that when we start writing we start because we have something to say. Once we start being heard, there is this internalized pressure that can be really terrifying and maybe even hinder the voice we so badly wanted to share. Don't do that. Just keep shouting. 

Follow her work at: 
Twitter/Instagram: @constanceannx3

Monday, May 1, 2017

BROTHEL WINS THE BRAM STOKER AWARD: MEDITATIONS WITH THE MADAM

Hello, my little storm clouds!

Wow, the past two days have been absolutely incredible and I have to tell you, I think I’m still in shock. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to Stokercon this year because my job at the time didn’t approve my time off, so I stayed home and worked on a short story for Dark Fuse, read some poetry, and worked for a bit that Saturday, all the while trying not to think about all the fun I was missing and all the people I didn’t get to hug or see.

But because you all are awesome, so many of you touched base with me and kept me in the loop the entire time and I can’t thank you enough. It meant the world to me. Special shout out to Jennifer Bares, John Edward Lawson, Maria Alexander, Matt Betts, and Mike Arnzen!

When I came home that night, I logged onto the Facebook Live stream and Dennis and I settled down with a six pack and a bottle of champagne (just in case). This year, I was blessed to be up for two nominations: Brothel for Superior Achievement in Poetry and The Eighth for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. The past three years have been incredible journeys with poetry and fiction, and while I typically don’t write speeches, this time around I had to since I wouldn’t be able to accept should something happen. I asked Jennifer and Mike to be my stand ins, and I (reluctantly) wrote some words down, hoping that this wasn’t a jinx.

Poetry is usually first on the docket, so it’s always an adrenaline rush. For the past three years, I’ve

sat there shaking, my stomach in knots, my whiskey waiting in front of me, and honestly, it’s one of the best feelings in the world. I can’t tell you how much writing poetry means to me and the fact that you (or someone else out there) is reading what I write is a high like no other. It’s actually pretty funny because when I was talking to my dad yesterday—who was practically in tears over the news—we were both laughing about dark little emo Stephanie who used to lock herself in her room when she was growing up and read and write for hours all day and never let anyone read her work. I’ve pretty much been like this my entire life, my head always somewhere in a book, and it’s insane for me to think that I made it to the awards ceremony in Long Beach, California (well, in spirit anyways), and was now waiting to see if they announced my name. I was sitting at home in my pajamas, my hair in a messy bun with my mediation stone in hand, Dennis and Apollo right next to me. When they called my name, it didn’t register. I didn’t breathe. Dennis hugged me and kept shaking me and saying I won but I couldn’t believe it. By the time Jennifer made it on stage, I was sobbing uncontrollably and my god, it was the best, most overwhelming feeling I have every experienced. Her words made my heart smile and the applause that followed, in addition to all the excitement and support that lit up my phone for the next two days was absolutely incredible.


Like I said, it truly will be a night that I will never, ever forget.

Writing Brothel was so important to me and for lots of reasons. When I first got the idea for it, I was thinking about Women in Horror Month (February) and how it’s still crazy to me that we have to have such a thing because there are TONS of female writers doing beautiful, dark, amazing things out there. I wanted to write a poetry collection that celebrated women, that tackled themes of sexuality, death, orgasm, violence, and the female nude in a way that isn’t typically celebrated. In horror, we’re so used to seeing the woman as womb, as victim, and here in the brothel, I wanted to show strong female characters: hunters, warriors, protectors, sisters. I wanted to reverse the roles and stereotype and shed light on the ladies who are just as vicious as the next.

Brothel was my love note to women in horror, and the fact that it brought me and Raw Dog Screaming Press home a Bram Stoker Award feels great. Raw Dog Screaming Press has been such a pioneer of diversity in the horror industry for the past twelve years by focusing on race, sexuality, and gender equality and equal opportunity publishing, and I’m so happy to be working with them and with everything their press stands for.

I want to thank you all again for your support, your readership, but most importantly, your friendship. You all inspire me and make the long hours, the research, and the writing struggles worth it. I feel blessed to have you all by side, and I look forward to giving you my next muse, Jolene, later on this year with my new collection, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, coming out in October from Raw Dog Screaming Press.

Here’s a sneak peek about what they’re saying:

Wytovich binds wrists with her muse using a chunky chain, and together they spin in circles, hoisting poetic knifes in a fight to the death. You might think you know what you're getting into with this collection of haunted road trips, erotic regrets and dangerous, devious desires, especially if you've read Wyto's other books of poetry. But this Acoustic Nightmare feels far more personal and profound than her earlier dark works, and you can tell she's riffing off the influences of her favorite writers -- from Charles Bukowski to Sylvia Plath, Jack Keroac to Anne Sexton to Edgar Allan Poe -- all of them also tied up tight, immersed in the muse she does battle with in this book. All the horror is still here -- how could it not be, in a collection by one of our darkest dreamers? -- but all that spooky gloom and spunky gore is just the basal layer underpinning a larger canvas of skin that she is tattooing, bruising, caressing, slicing and squeezing during this fascinating battle with her muse.  The glorious outcome of this knife fight is not the obvious denouement of death, nor the escape her narrator seeks solace in, but the complicated and frightening ballet of blades one makes with death along their life journey. As a reader, you're actively pulled into the weird seduction of her suicidal sway. Enjoy every step. Her muse might just be you....

-- Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award-winning poet, and author of Grave Markings

With Kisses and Knives,
Stephanie M. Wytovich


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

HOW 13 REASONS WHY GLAMORIZES SUICIDE: THE STORY OF HANNAH BAKER

I recently took a job at Barnes & Noble, and during the past two weeks, I’ve put 13 Reasons Why into the hands of more mothers and young girls than I care to admit. As such, I decided that I needed to know what everyone was talking about so I could sell and talk about the book intelligently. However, because I’m juggling a handful of deadlines at the moment, I didn’t splurge for the book, but rather gave the Netflix series a go because that’s one of the ways that I like to reward myself with some head space between writing sessions.

Having said that, this show was not head space. In fact, I got so fucked up during this show that it shot me into a three-day depression after watching it. See, when I was younger, (ie: the YA age group this show/book is geared toward), I was dealing with my own mental health issues, so seeing a lot of what Hannah and her friends went through was a huge trigger point for me. But that’s not the problem I have with the show because I don't believe in censorship and I very rarely sugar coat things. When I was middle school and high school, I—like I imagine most of our teenagers do—turned to fiction to find my way through the pain. I read books like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Kerosene by Chris Wooding, Cut by Patricia McCormick, and everything by Ellen Hopkins, whose books were, fun fact, my number one reason for wanting to be a writer. These books didn’t sugarcoat anything that I was going through or thinking about doing. They were honest, vulnerable, and they made me rethink every thought that went through my head, not to mention what the repercussions of those actions would be.

The problem that I have with 13 Reasons Why is that not only does it portray suicide as a valid reason for dealing with pain, but it glamorizes it in a chic, almost trendy, revenge fantasy. We’re introduced to Hannah Baker, a young girl who suffers unspeakable trauma, and instead of seeing how it affected her and how she dealt with it, we see the effects it’s having on everyone around her, i.e. we see her as a victim and as a problem.

This makes me want to spit.

High school is hell. Middle school, at least for me, was arguably worse, but being in a position where you feel attacked, singled out, threatened, and bullied on a daily basis is for some of us, part of our every day lives. 13 Reasons Why showed us all of that on a variety of levels, but instead of learning (or watching) how to positively handle any of these feelings, viewers instead become voyeurs to the tragedy.

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about this and saying things like “it was her fault” or “she never asked for help,or my personal favorite, “if she would have just given the name to Mr. Porter, she would have been fine.” This breaks my heart. I’m not here to lecture anyone for their opinions—because by all means, you’re all entitled to having your own thoughts--but speaking from a very real and scarred part of my heart, let me tell you that sometimes asking for help when you can’t see a way out, when you can’t see the light or even care enough to search for it anymore, is quite honestly, damned near impossible sometimes.

Women often don’t report sexual abuse because most of the time, no one listens to us. Mr. Porter is a perfect example of that. Instead of counseling her, comforting her, listening to her, he immediately makes the assumption that she asked for it, that maybe she did something she regrets and changed her mind about. No, Hannah couldn't give a name because giving a name meant putting a face to her attacker. It means telling the world that someone violated her when she’s already feeling worn and used and filthy. It puts her in the spotlight by placing yet another target on her back for the events that follow naming one’s abuser. Most notably though, she doesn’t want to confide in someone who already 1) has skeptical feelings about what she is saying and 2) has obviously shown that outside of naming her abuser, the only way to handle this issue is to put it behind her and move on.

Wrong.

Do I think she should have said something? Absolutely.
Do I think that’s easier said than done? Absolutely.

Do I blame her? No. Not even the slightest bit.

I was (and am) blessed to have a family where we can talk about anything. My father and I have had some truly horrific conversations throughout our lives about some of the darkest topics you could imagine. My family is genetically predisposed to depression and suicide is something that tends to be a part of our lives. I didn’t get the sense that Hannah had that lifeline when watching the show. Her parent’s don’t seem to question her at any point, nor does the school handle any of the obvious bullying/rape issues that are raging throughout the halls. Why aren’t the men held accountable for their actions? Why is gaslighting not addressed? There are countless times when, yes, Hannah does ask for help, maybe inadvertently, but the signs are there and no one answers her. No one helps her.

This brings mevto the second issue I have with the show: resources. Despite my immense distaste and anger at how the counseling aspect was handled in this show, no one is responsible for our mental health but ourselves. We have the power to make a change, to find our voice, to allow ourselves to heal, but 13 Reasons Why doesn’t show us any of that. We don’t see resources and we don’t’ see coping mechanisms. No one is talking to their kids about depression, drinking, or their distant behavior. Bryce is left alone and is essentially raising himself. Justin is in an abusive home and no one notices that there's anything wrong,despite him not showing up for school. These are just a couple examples of what the show isn't  talking about but rather is focusing on how 13 (11) people are responsible for someone else’s choice to take their life.

I know that sounds harsh, and to some degree, yes, it is. Suicide is a personal decision and it’s a selfish one, and I think that’s the only aspect that the show got correctly. Viewers got to see how Hannah’s death effected everyone around her: friends, family, the community. I liked that part of it because it showed us that even when we think that we’re not loved or like or cared about, we are. But having said that, everyone at the end just fades into the background. No one is held accountable for their actions—not even Hannah.

What I mean by that is:
  • Justin and Bryce get away with everything and viewers never get to see if they to be held accountable for their actions, i.e. sending the message that sexual abuse can be swept under the rug and will eventually disappear if ignored long enough.
  • Alex, another suicide case in the show, is used as a gimmick rather than a tragedy, i.e. reinforcing that suicide is an accurate way out to punish yourself and those around you.
  • Jessica Davis lies at the end of the show about what happened and then is shown breaking down to her father at the end. This was an important moment, and quite arguably, a teachable moment with the potential to be one of the most climatic points in the show. We could have seen how to properly handle an issue like this, but we didn’t. Furthermore, her alcoholism was always rampant throughout the series and not addressed once, DESPITE there being a “drunk-driving” incident.
  • Tyler Down is never held accountable for his actions (or pictures).
  • Courtney’s actions relay an anti-gay message and reinforce negative stereotypes. Sure, we expect her to struggle with her sexuality because we all do/did at that age, but it’s never resolved and she never comes to terms with it. Yes, it’s hinted at that maybe she is going to come clean about some issues, but we don’t see it, and again, that’s a problem.
  • Jenny Kurtz supposedly called the cops and reported what she and Hannah did the night of the party, but we never see anything come of it.

Now speaking from an entertainment standpoint, I have to say that I binge-watched the show in two days, so something was obviously pulling me in, right? That’s what I thought, too, until I sat down and really thought about why I was so fixated on the show. It wasn't because I thought it was good. It was because it was horrific and painful to watch, and it opened old wounds that I thought I had long since stitched up. Every time I think we're taking a step in the right direction with suicide awareness, it always seems that it's one step forward and then two giant steps back.

Hannah’s death—which was changed, by the way —was violent and used to reflect a how-to guide in terms of committing suicide. In the books, it’s done with pills, but in the show, we have a graphic portrayal with blood and razors. Unlike others, I actually don’t have a huge problem with this, but what I do have a problem with is the fact that the ending was obviously changed to show a grotesque portrayal of something that is already horrific enough, therefore making it a case of violence for violence sake, i.e. let’s show something raw and brutal and we’ll get more viewers.

That's disgusting.

To be fair, I don't know Jay Asher, and I don't know what his intentions were with this book, but I do know that when I sit down and reflect on the material that I have written that there is a ton of stuff that I wish I would have done differently or reworded in a different way, but once it’s out there, there’s no going back. The message that Asher unfortunately sent with this series/book is that suicide is glamorous, and it’s a way to get back at the people who hurt you, and as someone who has lost family to suicide, who has struggled with it herself, and who has seen the day-to-day effects that it has on someone who has found one of its victims, I find this not only distasteful, but offensive, and in a lot of ways, unforgivable. 

I have a hard time selling this book now, and often times when I see someone with it, I try to recommend a handful of other ones to counteract the message that it's sending to our children. Fiction is fiction, yes, but books are dangerous, and if there are kids looking for help through escapism, much like I did, I worry that this book might push some of them in the wrong direction. So, please, for me, if you know someone who is struggling with depression, addiction, or who is having suicidal thoughts, talk to them and let them know that someone is always there, always listening. Hell, give them my contact information. I'll talk to them myself personally because the first step to combating any of these issues is to talk about it, and while that might be hard, and for some people, impossible, there are ways to talk about it that don't put you in the public eye. 

But know that you're not alone.

There are millions of people rooting for you and your beautiful soul deserves to see every light because you are loved and your life is worth it.

For further information and resources, please see the information below:

Suicide Prevention Hotline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education): https://www.save.org/
AA (Alcoholics Anonymous): http://www.aa.org/
Rape Crisis Network: http://www.rccmsc.org/
RAIIN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network): https://centers.rainn.org/

Project Semicolon: https://projectsemicolon.com/

Monday, April 24, 2017

THE MADHOUSE WELCOMES THE SISTERS OF SLAUGHTER

Good morning, good morning!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, April 10, 2017

READING THE SADIST'S BIBLE WITH NICOLE CUSHING

Hello Fiendish Friends!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Websitehttps://nicolecushing.wordpress.com/bio/
Upcoming Appearances: https://nicolecushing.wordpress.com/appearances/
Twitter: @nicolecushing