Tuesday, December 19, 2017

LIVE: SHEET MUSIC TO MY ACOUSTIC NIGHTMARE TAKES THE STAGE

Hello Readers and Fiends:
My latest book of poetry, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, is now available for purchase via: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Raw Dog Screaming Press. For more information about the collection--and to hear what people are saying about it-- please check out the summary below, and as always, if you've picked up the book or plan to read it, I'd love to hear from you on Goodreads.
Book Summary
Roll the windows down, wipe the blood off your cheek, and turn the music up. Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare by Stephanie M. Wytovich is a collection spattered with dirt and blood, sage and corpses. The poems inside are confessionals and dirges, their stories the careful banter of ghosts and sinners over tequila at the bar.
These pages hold the lyrics to the beautiful grotesque that Wytovich is known for, but here she writes with a raw honesty that we haven’t seen from her before. This new direction takes readers to hospital rooms and death beds, shows the mask that was skinned off her face time and time again. There’s a brutality to her lines that cuts with the same knife she fantasized about, her blood and tears mixed in with stanzas as she talks about suicide and abuse, heartbreak and falling in love.
Written during a time when the road was her home, these poems were sung under the stars and screamed in the woods, carved into trees. They are broken bottles and cigarette butts, stale coffee and smeared lipstick, each its own warning, a tale of caution.
Listen to them carefully.
They very well might save your life.
What They’re Saying
“Like a candy apple wrapped in razor wire, Sheet Music will make you bleed with every bite, but you won’t be able to stop….simply outstanding.” —Maria Alexander, Bram Stoker Award winning author of Snowed
“…a mixed tape of atonement played along a roadway of righteous sin, where the crimson line of the horizon is either the dawning of redemption or the pyre of bridges set aflame. One cannot learn to write with such brutal honesty as Stephanie M. Wytovich, it must be earned. And the lessons hurt. This is the raw voice of angst and alienation from one of the most esteemed authors of dark poetry, operating at her peak of ability. Strap in and hold on. It’s a harrowing ride.” —Brian Kirk, Bram Stoker nominated author of We Are Monsters
“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 Wytovich’s other books of poetry. But this Acoustic Nightmare feels far more personal and profound than her earlier dark works…” —Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award-winning poet, and author of Grave Markings
“Wytovich gives the reader an enticing mix of poems written as personal confessionals…Check it out!”  —Marge Simon, co-author of Satan’s Sweethearts
“A heart-juddering ride along serpentine nightmares paved with intimate evocations of self-torment, poisoned kisses, and lying tongues.” —Erik Hofstatter, author of Rare Breeds

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Be Still, My Crabian Heart: An Interview with Erik Hofstatter


Hello Friends:

Today in the Madhouse, I'm happy to host my lovely friend, Erik Hofstatter, and chat about his latest book release, The Crabian Heart. Erik and I, despite the ocean between us, have become fast, dear friends over the past two years, and it brings me great pleasure to host him here today, because this book (along with his next release, Toroa, which I penned the introduction for) is a real treat, albeit a heartbreakingly beautiful one. Filled with sea metaphors and delicious bouts of body horror, this is a story that questions as much as it answers. 

I do hope you'll give it a try, but until then, let's get talk writing.

With seashells and pincers,
                                                                                                                             Stephanie M. Wytovich


Tell us about your book. What gave you the idea to create this world, and in your opinion, what does it represent at its most literal and figurative heights?

The story was inspired by a brutal heartache and takes place in Dover, England. It documents the arrival of two refugees. A mother and her teenage son. Both are trapped in a political limbo for the duration of their asylum claim. The boy spends most of his time on a local beach, where he befriends a destitute girl called Enola (alone) and gradually falls in love with her.

I think in its literal sense, the piece explores conflicting views on immigration in the age of Trump and Brexit, but also deeper, more primal instincts such as the mechanics of love. Figuratively, it represents our fear of loneliness and the ultimate quest for acceptance.

What was your favorite part of the story to create and explore, and then to play devil’s advocate, what was the hardest for you? Did you find any of it cathartic to write about, and if so, in what way?

The entire process was cathartic, yes. A form of self-therapy. When I began to outline the story, I wanted to explore the psychological impact immigration has on a child (based on my own experiences) so I designed a plot where Aleš finds a crab on the beach and decides to keep it as a pet. Each morning, the boy discovers small incisions in his forearm. The mother suspects self-harming due to isolation and laments for his detained father, but in fact, the incisions are created by the knife-wielding crab while he sleeps. That was the original outline, or part of it. But then I was plunged into emotional maelstrom by the sudden departure of my fiancée. After five years together, she decided that we were no longer right for each other.

I’ve always been a naïve romantic, a prisoner of my own heart. She was my true love and I literally went from getting married in couple of weeks to being all alone again. I was devastated. I lost seven kilos, my hair started thinning, and I’m still reading self-help books six months later. To preserve my sanity, I immersed myself in writing.

As I wrote, my feelings drifted further and further from the outline. I surrendered to the pain in my heart and allowed it to produce an entirely different interpretation. It was astonishing. A tsunami of words from an uncharted ocean. I think I reached my creative peak with The Crabian Heart.

My favorite part to explore was the dysfunctional relationship between Enola and Aleš. To expose the ugly side of love and shatter his childish naivety. As for the hardest, the story is semi-autobiographical. The arrival in Dover, the hotel, detainment of my father─all true. And there is of course my own heartbreak. Some of those memories were difficult to excavate.

Alright, let’s talk crabs (ha). What made you pick this crustacean (or creature) to write about?

I think the idea was first conceived when a friend of mine showed me a viral video of a crab, wielding a knife in its pincer, and advancing at the camera holder as if threatening to stab him. The clip had a somewhat comical effect on my pal, but I was fascinated. There was a story, begging to be told.

There is a heavy influence of body horror in this book, so I’m wondering who your influences are in that respect, and most importantly, what your favorite body horror example is in horror. For me, most of my favorites exist in Cronenberg land.
Agreed. Cronenberg is a legend. I was brought up on films like Scanners and The Fly. As for the transformation in the book, it just flowed─there was no particular inspiration. But some of my recent favorites and fine examples of body horror include American Mary, Tusk, Spring, and The Skin I Live In.

I really enjoyed the sea metaphors in your book. What draws you to the ocean and what does it represent to you in this piece specifically?

The deep sea is rich with mysteries. Majority of people have a fascination with the unknown. I don’t have a logical explanation for the metaphors. Escapism, I think. That’s why I’m so proud of this story, from a creative perspective. The changing colors of the ocean and how they respond to one’s heart, women with pincers, the sacrifices made in pursuit of eternal love─all dictated by my fractured heart instead of brain. Most of my stories involve excessive plotting, so this was a refreshing (but equally distressing) change.

But as for the representation, we live in a damaged world. Existence is pain. I aimed to tell a tale where the ocean represented a gateway into another realm. An idyllic realm where pure, eternal love existed, and was rewarded. An Atlantis for the broken hearted. A place I long to see.

How would you describe your writing style to those who are new to your work? Do you find yourself evolving as a writer? And if so, in what ways?

A friend and fellow author described me as a “schlock” horror writer (she made comparisons to Brian Keene), but I haven’t read any of his books yet so can’t say if that label is accurate or not. I tend to write about urban horror and the human experience. As for evolving, yes, absolutely. I think my skill as a storyteller constantly grows and I strive for my book to be of higher quality than the last.

Usually when I write, I drink coffee, sometimes wine if I’m feeling crazy, and on occasion, I’ll reward myself with M&Ms after a certain word count. Do you prefer coffee, tea, or booze when you write? Are there any rewards you give yourself as your move along in the drafting stage?

I tend to drink black coffee when I write, but it depends on my mood, as I often switch to green or rooibos tea. Booze restricts my writing. It limits my concentration and I end up staring at a wall, questioning my life choices, rather than spitting out words on the page. I postpone the alcoholic reward until I have the final product in my hands. Then it’s time to surf giant whisky waves.

What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

Master of the Moors & Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke, Let the Old Dreams Die by John Ajvide Lindqvist, A Kiss of Thorns by Tim Waggoner, Furnace by Livia Llewellyn.

What is next in store for your readers?

I intend to go on a hiatus for the remainder of the year, so I can emotionally recuperate, but a short novel (Toroa) will be published in spring 2018 via Sinister Grin Press. 

Bio: Erik Hofstatter is a dark fiction writer and a member of the Horror Writers Association. Born in the wild lands of the Czech Republic, he roamed Europe before subsequently settling on English shores, studying creative writing at the London School of Journalism. He now dwells in Kent, where he can be encountered consuming copious amounts of mead and tyrannizing local peasantry. His work appeared in various magazines and podcasts around the world such as Morpheus Tales, Crystal Lake Publishing, The Literary Hatchet, Sanitarium Magazine, Wicked Library, Tales to Terrify and Manor House Show. Other works include The Pariahs, Amaranthine and Other Stories, Katerina, Moribund Tales and Rare Breeds. 

Blurbs:

"...the emotional tug that The Crabian Heart exerts on the reader is palpable. The Crabian Heart is also a coming-of-age tale, one that resonates with the pangs of unrequited love. And as such, it concludes, like all great coming-of-age stories, with a very difficult and painful realisation for the love-struck main character. By the end of its 100 pages you will find yourself both haunted and moved by Hofstatter's evocative writing." - Starburst Magazine 

"I like this little collection a lot. Definitely a case of bigger not always being better. Hofstatter could have watered this down with more words, but that would have taken the impact out of the stories. I also like how he slips a lot of important messages into his work. For example "people are scared of what they don't know...or understand," says Enola, as she and Ales walk along the beach. Zsofia tells him that life is a gamble and his mother points out that the powers that be make the rules that govern us and we have to go where they tell us to. Ultimately, the decisions of what we do are ours." - Hellnotes 


Find him at:
Twitter: @ErikHofstatter
Facebook: Erik Hofstatter
Instagram: @ErikHofstatter 



Sunday, December 10, 2017

MY 2017 READING CHALLENGE

Hi Everyone--

Because I have a mess of grading, travel, and writing to finish up before the end of the year, I wanted to post my reading list for 2017 and talk about some of my favorite reads. For poetry, I absolutely adored Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong and Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim. They were both beautifully haunting and I can't recommend them enough.

My choices for novels/short story collections this year were a little all over the place, but I'm very much okay with that. I read a lot of memoir this year, and particularly enjoyed Hunger by Roxane Gay. It was raw, honest, and hopeful in brilliant ways, and as someone who deals with body issues, particularly dysmorphia, this was a book that I truly needed and enjoyed. Naturally, I worked in a Stephen King book or two, as per my usual, and I just finished up Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman as I'm writing this, and thoroughly enjoyed that, too.

For graphic novels this year, I sort of slacked a little, but I adored My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing the movie interpretation of it, especially now that I'm working off of the high of watching Mindhunter

Something new that I did this year was challenge myself to start reading magazines more, particularly those with a focus on dark/speculative fiction. I didn't get to read as much as I would have liked--I was aiming for 50 stories--but who knows. Maybe I'll surprise myself and sneak in some more reading before the end of the year is up. Having said that, a few of my favorites were:(1) "A Human Stain" by Kelly Robson, (2) "The Changeling by Sarah Langan, (3) "Death's Door Cafe" by Kaaron Warren, (4) "The Husband Stitch" by Carmen Maria Machado, and (5) Kiss of the Mouthless Girl by Giovanni De Feo.  

Poetry
  • The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson
  • Blind Huber by Nick Flynn
  • Mortal Trash: Poems by Kim Addonizio
  • Lucifer at the Starlite by Kim Addonizio
  • What is This Thing Called Love: Poems by Kim Adonizio
  • Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
  • ‘Til Death: Marriage Poems by Jim and Janice Leach
  • Lay Ghost by Nathaniel Mackey
  • Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair
  • L’Heure Bleue or The Judy Poems by Elisa Gabbert
  • Last Sext by Melissa Broder
  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
  • Swamp Isthumus by Joshua Marie Wilkinson
  • Fjords Vol. 1 by Zachary Schomburg
  • Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Gluck
  • All My Pretty Ones by Anne Sexton
  • The Master of Disguises by Charles Simic
  • The Moon Before Morning by W. S. Merwin
  • Whiskey Words and a Shovel I by R. H. Sin
  • Whiskey Words and a Shovel II by R.H. Sin
  • The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace
  • Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire
  • Meat Heart by Melissa Broder
  • An Assortment of Sky Things by Christina Sng
  • Jackknife: New and Selected Poems by Jan Beatty
  • Beautiful Chaos by Robert M. Drake
  • Forever Words by Johnny Cash
  • Scarecrone by Melissa Broder
  • In the Circus of You by Nicelle Davis
  • Objects for a Fog Death by Julie Doxsee
  • Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire
  • I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kyung Ju Kim
  • A Collection of Nightmares by Christina Sng
  • Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim
  • There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker
  • The Chaos of Longing by K. Y. Robinson
  • The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur


Books/Collections: Fiction/Nonfiction
  • White by Tim Lebbon
  • The Turtle Boy by Kealan Patrick Burke
  • Odd Man Out by James Newman
  • Snowed by Maria Alexander
  • Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life by Kim Addonizio
  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  • Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
  • Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire
  • So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1) by J.K. Rowling 
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter, #2) by J.K. Rowling
  • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
  • The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
  • Glue by Constance Ann Fitzgerald
  • This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
  • Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
  • Lust and Wonder by Augusten Burroughs
  • Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
  • Sad Perfect by Stephanie Elliot
  • Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso
  • Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman 
  • The Girls by Emma Cline
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay
  • Slade House by David Mitchell
  • Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity by David Lynch
  • Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
  • Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
  • In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
  • The Horror of It All: One Moviegoers Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins and the Living Dead by Adam Rockoff
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Chain Saw Confidential: How We Made the World’s Most Notorious Horror Movie by Gunnar Hansen
  • Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
  • Shit Luck by Tiffany Scandal
  • Puppet Skin by Danger Slater
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero
  • The Green Kangaroos by Jessica McHugh
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  • The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
  • There is No F*cking Secret by Kelly Osbourne
  • Psycho: Sanitarium by Chet Williamson
  • Asylum by Madeleine Roux
  • You’ll Be Okay: My Life with Jack Kerouac by Edie Kerouac-Parker
  • The Crabian Heart by Erik Hofstatter
  • Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman
  • Thinner by Stephen King
  • Deathtrap by Ira Levin
  • Ararat by Christopher Golden
  • Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King
  • Fangoria's 101 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen: A Celebration of the World's Most unheralded Fright Flicks by ADam Lukeman
  • Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Graphic Novels/Comics
  • Tomie: Complete Deluxe Edition by Junji Ito
  • Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk
  • The Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman
  • The Metamorphosis by Peter Kuper
  • Give it Up! and Other Short Stories by Peter Kuper
  • The Batman Adventures: Mad Love by Paul Dini
  • Dissolving Classroom by Junji Ito
  • My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
  • Wytches, Volume 1 by Scott Snyder
  • The Hidden by Richard Sala


Short Stories
  • A Human Stain by Kelly Robson
  • Red as Blood and White as Bone by Theodora Goss
  • Come See the Living Dryad by Theodora Goss
  • The Night Cyclist by Stephen Graham Jones
  • The Spindly Man by Stephen Graham Jones
  • La beaute sans vertu by Genevieve Valentine
  • meat+drink by Daniel Polansky
  • The Hanging Game by Helen Marshall
  • Caro in Carno by Helen Marshall
  • It Feels Better Biting Down by Livia Llewellyn 
  • The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado
  • Death's Door Cafe by Kaaron Warren
  • The Garbage Doll by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
  • I Make People Do Bad Things by Chesya Burke
  • Persephone by Seanan McGuire
  • Hairwork by Gemma Files
  • Redcap by Carrie Vaughn
  • Alchemy by Carrie Vaughn
  • The Changeling by Sarah Langan
  • The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin
  • God Product by Alyssa Wong
  • And In Our Daughters We Find a Voice by Cassandra Khaw
  • Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma
  • The Ordinary Woman and the Unquiet Emperor by Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Last of the Minotaur Wives by Brooke Bolander
  • More Than Nothing by Nisi Shawl
  • Hourglass by Clare Beams
  • The Music Room by Stephen King
  • Kiss of the Mouthless Girl by Giovanni De Feo
  • When We Taste of Death by Damien Angelica Walters
  • The Beautiful Thing We Will Become by Krisi Demeester
  • eyes I dare not meet in dreams by Sunny Moraine
  • Figs, Detached by Jenn Grunigen
  • Excerpts from a Film (1942-1987) by A.C. Wise
  • Secret Keeper by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
  • Ghostling by E. Catherine Tobler
  • Necksnapper by MP Johnson

Sunday, December 3, 2017

GIFTS FOR THE HORROR LOVER IN YOUR LIFE: A SHOPPING GUIDE

It's that time of year again. The weather is colder, the madness of Black Friday has passed, and Krampus is checking his list, not once, but twice. So for all of you out there shopping for the delightfully macabre, here are a few options to consider during the holiday. Also, for those local to the Pittsburgh area, check out the new curiosity shop in Allentown. It's called The Weeping Glass and it is simply astounding and filled with the most charming collection of odd things. They're also on Instagram, too, for those out-of-town who would like to check out their collection of unusual gifts and ephemera. Honestly, I can't recommend them enough. 

1. Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix. This book is a huge jackpot for readers, writers, and enthusiasts alike. With story summaries, cover art, and author tales and biographies, this is the gift that keeps on giving. 

2. Skull Planter: For the witch, naturalist, or herbalist in your group, this curious little planter will help you discover your green thumb... or allow you to bury your secrets. Whichever.

3. Classic Horror Movie Scarf: Who doesn't like to massacre the dropping temperatures with their favorite monster icons?

4. Edgar Allan Poe and Raven Enamel Pin Set: I don't know about you, but I already have four ravens tattooed on me, so I think it's time for something new to express my love of Poe and his stories. This adorable pin set certainly does the trick!

5. A subscription to Rue Morgue or Fangoria: Sure, we'd all like to have a psychic connection or some mystical energy that slips into our brains to keep us current and up-to-date with our favorite happenings in the scene, but sometimes we need help. Subscriptions to these magazines certainly get us where we need to be.

6. Slash Cards: Because we like to share our thrills and favorite kills, this horror movie trivia game is a can't miss for horror fans.

7. Norman Bates, Pop Funko: Did mother tell you to buy this? If so, you should probably listen to her. She's been known to have a bit of a temper when she doesn't get what she wants for Christmas.

8. Normal People Scare Me Coffee Mug: Not a morning person? Of course you're not! You're a child of darkness. Cheers to moonlight. 

9. Night of the Living Dead, The Criterion Collection: A classic to appease any film buff. 

10. Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur's Cookbook: Budding chef in the family or among friends? Who better to teach cooking than the master himself? This gift pairs well with some fava beans and a nice chianti. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

GREEN KANGAROOS LOST IN MADHOUSE. SEND HELP.

Hi Everyone--

This week, I've invited my gal pal Jessica McHugh into the Madhouse to chat about her book, The Green Kangaroos. Now I've had this book on my shelf for years now, and I'm so excited that I've finally blocked out some time to get to work on it, and I gotta say, it was one hell of a ride. It reminded me of a science fiction version of one of Ellen Hopkin's books, and as someone who is a fan of medical horror and books about addiction and psychological chaos, I enjoyed this one immensely.

Now for those of you who don't know Jess, she is an author of speculative fiction spanning the genre from horror and alternate history to young adult. A member of the Horror Writers Association and a 2013 Pulp Ark nominee, she has devoted herself to novels, short stories, poetry, and playwriting. Jessica has had fourteen books published in five years, including the bestselling Rabbits in the Garden, The Sky: The World and the gritty coming-of-age thriller, PINS. More info on her speculations and publications can be found at JessicaMcHughBooks.com.

Enjoy the madness, folks.
With Atyls and love,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Tell us about your book. What gave you the idea to create this world, and in your opinion, what does it represent at its most literal and figurative heights?

Though I didn't write this novel until late 2012, the idea to write about a drug-addled middle child had been marinating in my brain since 2008. The character of Perry Samson is without a doubt inspired by my brother, also a middle child, who's had a lengthy battle with heroin addiction. But despite those experiences, I didn't feel prepared to write this book in 2008. I'd just had my first novel published that year, and I knew this story would be emotionally taxing, so I'm glad I recognized back then how much I still needed to grow as a writer.

In the beginning, the story was more linear and it lacked the sci-fi and bizarro elements. It focused more on the drug, which was called Elysium rather than Atlys. What pushed the original plot into what it is today had a lot to do with the publisher I was aiming for (though I eventually chickened out) and my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. When it came to the outline, I didn't second guess my decisions. I didn't censor my voice. I became Perry Samson in all of his hedonistic misery and allowed myself to enjoy every second. For lack of better explanation, the world grew from a sort of destructive liberation.

In that vein, I feel like this story represents how easy it is to annihilate someone with love. Especially if what we call “love” is really an addictive routine we should've shrugged off ages ago. We do it to ourselves like Perry, we do it those we care about like Nadine, and we do it as a favor to the world like Dr. Carter. Sometimes love isn't the answer. Sometimes pain is easier and, therefore, better. But it's never as fulfilling as love can be.

In summation, this is an epic love story for Perry and a shitty one for pretty much everyone else.

Can you talk a little about Perry’s character and the inspiration you used for him? I know that this book is personal to you on a lot of levels, so I’m curious how you 1) maintained distance from you own feelings to focus on character development specific to this story and 2) allowed yourself to get close to it in a way that may have been emotionally difficult for you.

There are certainly elements of my brother's personality in Perry Samson, and Baltimore is an important setting as that's where my brother bought drugs and even lived in abandoned buildings for a bit. But there's also a lot of twenty-three-year-old Jessica in Perry. In my early twenties I went through a horrible bout of depression, though I didn't know it was depression at the time. I'd just ended a five-year relationship, I worked a shitty job, my roommate was starting to despise me, and writing was the only thing that made me happy. Well, and drinking. I self-medicated with alcohol and reached a point when I didn't even recognize myself. I didn't know my brother was back on heroin at that time, probably because I was too drunk to notice he'd nodded out on the couch beside me, so I carried a lot of guilt about giving him a safe place to get high, albeit unknowingly. I made a lot of mistakes. I also got a lot of inspiration.

That's also why it took me years to get around to this book. I needed that distance. If I was going to channel the worst parts of me, I had to know I wasn't going to disappear into them again. I thought it would be difficult, even painful, to channel those versions of my brother and me, but it turned out to be the most enjoyable experience I've had writing any story so far. Some parts were harder than others, but most of the drafting felt like a release. The layering of real world and the simulation provided an interesting therapy, allowing me to interpret my feelings from both sides of addiction.

What was your favorite part of the story to create and explore, and then to play devil’s advocate, what was the hardest for you? Did you find any of it cathartic to write about, and if so, in what way?

It might sound horrible, but playing Perry was a lot of fun for me during revisions. The first draft was intense and cathartic and enjoyable on some levels, but I wouldn't call it “fun.” Revising him was fun, though. I didn't censor him in any way, but a new spark came with the revisions. The percentage of what I loved compared to what I thought was squatbutter was much higher in this book. Another aspect might've been the fact that the book was accepted within a week of submission and only had a few notes after the final revision. I owe a lot of that to my best friend, Jenny, who lives near Patterson Park. Let's just say Patterson Park had less realistic layout before I drank a bottle of champagne and stumbled around with my best friend. I got as close as I could to Perry's state of mind when he'd be ambling the park. As awful as I think Perry can be, or maybe always has been and will be, there has to be hope in him because there's hope in me.

I think the hardest part was describing Emily in the virtual world. It gave me so much trouble, I think it was the last thing I revised—and probably rewrote—before submitting. I have no recollection of that scene, except that it exists, so I should probably go back and revisit it at some point. Gee I hope it's not shit.

How did you develop the Sunny Daye Institute? I felt like I was in a Black Mirror Episode and I really dug the premise for it. Also, why Antarctica?

I had to ask my husband because I couldn't remember! (terrible, I know) I'd come up with the notion of an addict needing to pass three tests, but he said the Sunny Daye Institute came from a boozy conversation one night. That sounds incredibly plausible, so I'm thinking it sprung organically out of drunkenly brainstorming about what kind of person or people would implement such a radical rehab program. Antarctica seemed like an idea location for the Sunny Daye HQ because it was so secluded, such an inhospitable environment, a place where failure would reap the same punishment as an attempted escape. It's as clean and final as Carter's kind of sobriety.

I really liked Emily’s character in the story and she reminded me a lot of the movie Smart House (1999), you know, if this were a teen comedy and not a science fiction horror story about drugs and addiction. Having said that, I liked that she is a computer who is programmed to have feelings and think and interact with the world(s) around her. I see a lot of Asimov and Philip K. Dick influence in this story, and I’m curious if you found inspiration in them, and even Westworld for this story?

At the very least, Asimov and Dick had a subconscious influence on this story, but Emily actually appeared in my unfinished novella “Island Lions” first, though it appears after TGK chronologically. In IL, she's only known as “The Woman on the Wall,” a phrase which appears in TGK too. I didn't get very far into the story, but she's described as the product of a glitchy program, and I used that inspirado to create her backstory for The Green Kangaroos. I stopped writing IL because The Hunger Games got really big, and there are similar elements, but if I finish it one day, readers might get to see Perry Samson again too.

Oh, and I totally screamed “Hey, those are my LCs!” while watching HBO's Westworld but was woefully unaware of the film despite my love for Yul Brynner.

The ending to this story was both uplifting and upsetting for me, because in a way, I felt like the story was building up to Perry’s sobriety, which in some ways he gets (by force) while in other ways, he blatantly turns his back on his family and chooses drugs.  Can you explain the decision for this as well as the message that you’re sending with the ending? I like that it’s not clean cut—because, hey, life isn’t clean cut--but I’m also unsure of the lack of hope that it leaves me with for those struggling with addiction.

I knew the ending would be potentially controversial, the epilogue especially. But when it comes down to it, sometimes there is no hope left—or maybe hope isn't always the sunshiney goal we think it is. Sometimes hope is dark and hungry. Sometimes it consumes us instead of setting us free. Though Perry isn't sober, he has found happiness and hope in the end. He's found peace in his addiction. It's not the right peace, and it's not romantic, but it's his. Nadine, on the other hand, is so addicted to protecting and keeping her new LC brother clean that she's actually turning him into an addict.

I'm certainly not suggesting people shouldn't try to help the addicts in their lives. A good deal of them want and need their loved ones reaching out to find their way back. Some do not. Perry's story is one shade of the latter.

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

Textured for your (dis)pleasure.

What is next in store for your readers?

The fifth and final middle-grade book in my Darla Decker Diaries series is now available from Evolved Publishing. It's been quite a journey, but I'm extremely proud of this installment. As someone who naturally drifts toward horror and otherworldly plots, it was tough staying grounded sometimes, but as this novel actually answers a big mystery that's lasted throughout the series, I felt a little more in my wheelhouse with this one.

My first novel with Raw Dog Screaming Press also comes out this year, and it's gone through quite a transformation since I started it back in my early 20s. “Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven” is the story of Cartesia, the corrupt council that governs it, and a fierce woman named Shal who's done putting up with the council's tyranny. But in a world where God is dead is a mysterious entity called the Capesman has assumed control of men's souls, the path to victory is more crooked than Shal ever imagined.

I do have a few short stories coming out, but most notably, I will have fifty-five flash stories in the 3rd volume of Carrion Blue's 555 anthology. Fourteen of those fifty-five are dedicated to my best friendobear, Tyler, who passed away less than a month before I began writing them, so you can expect some...ahem...emotions. I'm also more than halfway through my second A Story A Week challenge, and I'm posted the unedited flash stories, which will be part of a novel called WEBWORM, to my Patreon page.

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?

My biggest influences are Roald Dahl, Anne Rice, and Bret Easton Ellis, so maybe that's why my work leans toward dark humor, visceral descriptions, and a lot of “fucks.” And yes, I do have a ritual for finishing big projects. I put on what's called my Story Hat (which is just a tiny fancy clip-on hat my mom gave me) and take a celebratory picture. It's dumb, but it makes me feel like a fancy god.

What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

“My Soul Looks Back,” a memoir by Dr. Jessica B. Harris, who also happens to be my namesake. It details her time in New York in the 70s as a friend to the likes of James Baldwin and Maya Angelou, and what I've read so far is excellent! Also Betty Rocksteady's “Like Jagged Teeth” and Amber Fallon's “The Warblers.”

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

You should enjoy writing. Don't get me wrong, writing is hard as fuck, and it's going to torture the hell out of you at times, but it should also be fun. Finding inspiration, creating complex worlds and characters, even receiving criticism that helps you grow as an artist: these can be the most soul-crushing aspects of writing, but they can be amazingly fun too, and they can fill you with the most wonderful sense of pride if you persevere. 

Want to check out her latest?

Darla Decker Breaks the Case
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B075QKHDPW/

It's the summer before high school, and secrets are turning Darla Decker's life upside down. With her parents' increasing distance and her brother's eagerness to escape, life is tense at home. Even Darla, Reggie, and Nate's first training weekend as Camp Wakonda counselors is tougher than they imagined. But when she and her best friends uncover a shocking connection between Reggie's grandmother and Shiloh Farms' resident demon-bus-driving cat lady, the trio dives into a mystery that's been decades in the making.

Will Darla, Nate, and Reggie's friendship survive the turbulent days leading to ninth grade, or will it fade like so many other relationships into the past?

The frank and funny journey of love, loss, and the nitty-gritty of growing up continues in the final installment of Darla Decker's middle school diaries.