Friday, March 31, 2017


Greetings Poets!

My poem, "Of My Wounds, There Are Many" has been nominated for the Rhysling Award through the Science Fiction Poetry Association. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the award, here is a little background information, via the SFPA's website: "The Rhysling Awards are named for the blind poet Rhysling in Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “The Green Hills of Earth.” Rhysling’s skills were said to rival Rudyard Kipling’s. In real life, Apollo 15 astronauts named a crater near their landing site “Rhysling,” which has since become its official name." Hearing that my work has been nominated for this award is a truly humbling experience, and I feel blessed to be nominated alongside such wonderful poets. I'm very much looking forward to the anthology this year.

For interested parties, please see my poem below, which was first published in Sanitarium Magazine.This poem was heavily inspired by the "Wound Man," an illustration which surfaced in early European surgical texts in the Middle Ages. Surgeons used this drawing as an anatomical guide to injuries. Some of you might even recognize the interpretation of it that Hannibal used during one of his many musings.

Of My Wounds, There Are Many
By Stephanie M. Wytovich

Snapshot to blood and bone,
there’s a knife in my head,
but my migraine was two years in the making,
stitched to the side of my skull
like the arrow tip lodged behind my eye,
buried in my brain like the bruises
of last night’s thunder storm,
my teeth ripped from my mouth,
shoved down my throat
like how the sky pushes out rain.

Of my wounds, there are many:
see the delicate stigmata cut into my hands and feet,
the gashes dug into my thighs, the tally-mark slashes on my wrists;
I am the punctured female, the pincushion of hysteria,
a traumatized sack of feminine injury,
the flesh of my flesh, the scar of my scar,
I’m a collection of lesions and lacerations,
a patchwork of black and blue contusions
worn out from where you scrubbed me raw,
beat me till I seeped red like rare, woman steak.

Look to me on this table as I bleed and break,
a toy of operation, a surgical muse to the amputation
of bodily consciousness: hear me when I say I feel nothing,
that with each incision and penetration, I am dead,  
gone from this world of torment and torture,
a disappearance, an acceptance to oblivion,
to the land where I can forget the flower,
the blossom of what I saw lies underneath.

Yes, use my soon-to-be-corpse as a nametag,
as a placard to the other girls who are destined to bleed;
I am closing my eyes to your knives now,
deafening myself to the fractures you inflict;
I will cease to be your canvas of mutilation,
Only a head, a torso, a heart,
best to photograph me while in transition;
it’s the last chance you’ll have
to tray and locate my soul.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Greeting Apocalyptic Ones,

Today in the MADHOUSE, I'm having a chat with one of my favorite poets, Jeannine Hall Gailey. I first read Gailey a year or so ago when I picked up The Robot Scientist's Daughter and was blown away (ha--get it? Nuclear-blast humor?) by her ability to weave science and fact into her poetry in a way that I not only enjoyed, but understood as well. To me, she was like the cool science teacher I always wanted, but never had as she was able to educate/entertain me through her verse and turn of phrase in a way where I had fun learning, and was still enamored and immersed in the art. Her work is satirical at times, and dark at others, and after reading her latest collection Field Guide to the End of the World, my fandom (and respect for her) only increased.

For those unfamiliar with Gailey, she served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington and is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to theFloating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist's Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, the winner of the Moon City Book Prize. Her web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @webbish6.

Now pack your disaster bags and open a can of baked beans. It's time to hear about the end of the world.

With a radiation-like glow,
Stephanie M. Wytovich
WYTOVICH: Tell us about your collection Field Guide to the End of the World. What inspired you to write it?

GAILEY: I started writing this collection thinking about the humorous side of survival. I was living in California when I began writing these poems, where you’re constantly aware of potential disasters – fire, earthquakes, mudslides. There are reverse 911 calls in some parts of California which you might have five minutes to get out of your house with all your stuff and pets, and you have to have a kit prepared with which you’re supposed to dig yourself out of rubble or whatever (CA’s suggestions for the kit included a wheelbarrow – like we could fit one in our tiny one-bedroom apartment!) One of our apartments burned to the ground a year after we moved out, and the other was severely damaged in an earthquake two years after we moved out. So I think that made me start thinking about how to prepare for the worst. Plus, as I was writing, part of the time I was dealing with a neurological crisis that put me in a wheelchair for a few years and had me managing memory and motor skill problems, then later, right around the time when it was accepted for publication, I was diagnosed with metastasized cancer. So then I was struggling with real life-or-death issues – which got woven into the book, the poems about contemplating death and how to best live on borrowed time.

This all probably makes it sound like a much grimmer book than it actually is! I’m a naturally optimistic person, and I loved the idea of playing “apocalypse with a sense of humor” games – Martha Stewart’s guide to apocalypse living, or imagining an apocalyptic version of the Anthropologie catalog. Just having fun with some of the “comfort/shelter” tropes in American culture right now, the idea of cozily sitting down to a fire where you’re eating the last of the rationed food, or raiding hotel mini-cars and coffee shops for sustenance.

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

GAILEY: I write a lot, and I’ve been writing poetry on a regular basis since I was a kid. I’m not a person with a schedule for writing, or a problem with writer’s block, though I don’t always love the editing/revising process – it’s harder and longer, and I’ve got a short attention span! I’ve been playing around with the personal essay and fiction pieces, and course my poetry toolkit doesn’t always fit for those kinds of genres, so I’m kind of in a “learning” place with that stuff right now, which is challenging but interesting. I like pushing boundaries between genres – prose poems, Japanese forms, speculative work that is maybe a little outside the norms.

WYTOVICH: How do you know when a poem is finished and ready to be sent out for publication consideration?

GAILEY: I don’t! I’m literally one of those people who continues revising poems right up until book publication, and even after – I’ll be reading for a book, and saying “Oh, that word isn’t exactly right – that word cut be cut,” etc. I take a leap of faith that poems are ready and send them out on a regular basis. If they come back a lot, I may take them out of circulation, or cut them up, or if I think they’re good, just keep sending them out. 

WYTOVICH: Do you write outside of the poetry genre? If so, what, and where are some places readers can find your work?

GAILEY: I’ve written a couple of personal essays. I’ve been writing poetry book reviews for over a decade (I regularly contribute to The Rumpus and other outlets.) I’ve published some flash fiction over the years (I think Fiction Southeast might have some of my most recent flash fiction work.)

WYTOVICH: Who are some of your influences in poetry?

GAILEY: My earliest influences were writers like T.S. Eliot and e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay. In college, I discovered Louise Gluck, Margaret Atwood, Lucille Clifton, Dorianne Laux, and Denise Duhamel, all of whom gave me a sense of freedom to mess around with alternate storytelling from a female perspective.

WYTOVICH: What is your origin story? What drew you to poetry (or H/SF/F) in the first place?

GAILEY: I think my poetry has always fallen into the speculative realm – when I started turning in poems about superheroines and Ovid/Grimm’s re-tellings during my MA workshop classes, I’m not sure all the professors were totally down with it, but it was really a reflection of my interior interests – and that I’ve always really identified with outsiders and mutants. Great characters in comic books and fairy tales, heroines who struggle against odds and don’t necessarily have happy endings, but survival, in mind. 

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

GAILEY: I’m working on a review of Marie Howe’s Magdalene for The Rumpus. I’m so impressed how she works with persona (in this case, Mary Magdalene) and how she makes the mundane poetic and melancholy. She really is a poetry heroine. I’m also reading Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook for the first time. I’ve read some of her more speculative work, but not this.

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

GAILEY: I’m expecting much more crossover between “high” and “low” culture as younger people become the main audiences for literature. The artificial distinctions are already starting to break down, and I think the upcoming generation of ysoung people won’t have the snobbery towards the sci-fi-fantasy genre that previous generations did. Writers are proud of their geek heritage these days. It’s more inclusive. I like it.
WYTOVICH: What can your readers look forward to on the horizon?

GAILEY: I’ve just completed (gulp) a new poetry manuscript about my experiences being diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live, and then outliving the diagnosis, and then outliving it some more. I’ll start shopping it around to publishers soon! There are also some (double gulp) more political poems in the mix, which I guess is inevitable with the current stuff going on.

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

GAILEY: Persist. Persist and be your own weird, unique self. Even if it isn’t everyone’s taste immediately, audiences may catch up down the road. When I started sending out superhero poems, almost no one was doing them – then a few years ago, there was an entire, healthy-sized anthology of superhero poems published by Minor Arcana Press, and I was so happy to be at one of its launch readings at AWP Seattle, watching tons of poets I admired reading superhero poems out loud. So much fun. If you feel alone and you’re doing something new with your work, well, you’re probably doing something right. And others will eventually catch on.

Monday, March 13, 2017


Hello Dark Ones,

Today in the MADHOUSE, I'm pleased to host friend and colleague, Michael Bailey. I met Michael a couple years ago at World Horror, and recently had the pleasure of working with him on Chiral Mad 3, published through Written Backwards. Michael is a stand-up guy, a wonderful editor, and he (and his lovely wife) are even willing to put up with drunk Necon phone calls from me (thanks Gard! ha!).

For those of you who aren't familiar with Bailey, he is the multi-award-winning author of PALINDROME HANNAH, PHOENIX ROSE and PSYCHOTROPIC DRAGON (novels), SCALES AND PETALS and INKBLOTS AND BLOOD SPOTS (short story / poetry collections), and editor of PELLUCID LUNACY and the CHIRAL MAD anthologies. His books have been recognized by the International Book Awards, National Best Book Awards, Independent Publisher Book Awards, the USA News “Best Book” Awards, the London Book Festival, ForeWord Reviews’ Book of the Year, This is Horror Anthology of the Year, the Indie Book Awards, and the Eric Hoffer Award. His short fiction and poetry can be found in anthologies and magazines around the world, including the US, UK, Australia, Sweden and South Africa. 

Below, we'll be chatting about Chiral Mad 3 and 4, and learning about the driving force behind his Bram Stoker award-nominated story, "Time is a Face on the Water."

With madness,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

WYTOVICH: Tell us about the story “Time is a Face on the Water.” What inspired you to write it?

BAILEY: As you drive north from Napa up highway 121, you pass old towns like St. Helena, Calistoga, and eventually Nights Valley (where this is no town, and where we lived for a few years), and as you continue north the trees grow taller, the landscapes greener, the vineyards older, and the wine more expensive. It’s a heavily-geothermal and -volcanic area, with a petrified forest, active geysers, and hot springs (hence the good wine). We were fortunate enough to live in probably one of the most beautiful parts of California, and that’s where this story takes place. Every winter the creek in our backyard would rush and every fall it would trickle, and along the beds grape vines as thick as forearms and older than all of us combined reached skyward and clung to the trees: redwoods, firs, bays, a mix of oaks; and likewise great California Oaks clung to the ground, their branches like arthritic knuckles, their trunks as big as Volkswagen buses, Spanish moss hanging off their branches and to the ground like 80’s rock band hair. But what I will always remember most about this place was the canopy of grapevines above the creek, leaves turning throughout the year from green to yellow to red to brown and eventually falling (waltzing for a bit in the air) before landing in the water, where they’d be carried off in a slow death parade downstream. The creek was where I’d go to relax, to reflect, and it was always like time slowed (or perhaps even stopped). That place would put me in a trance, and that’s where I got the idea for “Time is a Face on the Water,” a story about loss, and about the unforgiving passing of time. The final call for the latest volume of Borderlands also helped. The night before submissions were to be postmarked, I told Kelly I needed to write, and she said okay, and she fell asleep leaning next to me while overnight I cranked out this 5,001-word short story (Tom Monteleone had a strict 5,000-word limit, which I of course had to break; I even typed “5,001 words” on the front page before sending it to him).

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

BAILEY: Like the subject of the story mentioned above, time gives me the most trouble. I don’t have a lot of time to write because of my day job (the one that pays the bills), and my commute (where I do most of my reading now via audio books), and of course the anthologies and various book projects I work on here and there for both Written Backwards and Dark RegionsPress. It’s impossible to make time, because time is always there, so it’s a matter of finding and using it wherever and whenever I can, such as the all-night-write-a-thon, or on a weekend where I might find myself alone. I’ll go for months without writing, years even, and then I’ll somehow find time for my own work and will crank out 5,000 or 10,000 or 20,000 words in a matter of days, and then, like most trees in the winter, I’ll go dormant and not produce any leaves/pages for what I consider extremely long periods of time. So I guess the actual writing is the easiest part of the craft for me, and I do it in spurts. I don’t write a lot of fiction, but when I do, readers seem to like it. And I don’t usually spend a lot of time revising or rewriting my own work (I seem to do that much more now as I’m writing, ‘editing on the go’, in other words, perhaps because I spend so much time editing others’ work), so I’ll only take a second or third pass at a story before sending it off, and then I’m done with it.

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

BAILEY: I wrote my first novel, Palindrome Hannah, without ever tackling anything shorter, although both that novel and my second, Phoenix Rose, are more nonlinear meta-novels than they are traditional novels, each made up of five interconnecting novelette- or novella-length works. And my third novel, Psychotropic Dragon (still in the works) is basically a novelette wrapped around a novella wrapped around a short novel. So I guess my preferred form is long fiction. Even when I write short fiction lately, I have a difficult time keeping it under 7,500 words, and when I attempt short fiction, it usually ends up closer to the 5,000-word mark or longer. And I usually have poetry buried in the work somewhere; poetry is a great way to write something powerful using fewer words, and I find that fascinating. One compliment I’ve had with my novels is that they can be read in spurts (there’s that word again), each section/part easily read in an hour or so, which I feel is a healthy amount of time to spend reading, and having a book structured this way makes an 80,000 to 100,000-word book seem less daunting, or less prone to be set aside and left forgotten. The reader feels accomplished, perhaps, having read an entire section/part in one sitting. Too many times I’ve gotten into a book, and then have become distracted somehow (life does this to us), the book not picked up again for perhaps weeks, months. And once I find the time to crack the spine again I find myself lost in the story the opposite way a reader should be lost in a story. The world is full of distractions, so the 10,000- to 20,000-word range is perfect for healthy reading, in my opinion … as well as short novels (which, for some reason, are not considered marketable per the current industry standard, which is a bunch of crap). Bookshelves are basically trophy cases for our reading accomplishments, yet how many of our trophies are unwarranted? How many books on our shelves go unread, or unfinished?

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

BAILEY: Those who took me in under their wings in the early stages, taught me the rules of flying, and then pushed me out of the tree to see if I’d survive: Thomas F. Moneteleone, F. Paul Wilson, Douglas E. Winter; and those who encourage me to continue flapping: Jack Ketchum, Gary A. Braunbeck, Mort Castle, many others.

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

BAILEY: I started reading Edgar Allan Poe when I was thirteen, then moved onto Ray Bradbury, and eventually Michael Crichton. Their work sometimes crossed into horror. Those three, and probably Stephen King, were my gateway drugs into horror. Outside of horror, my drug of choice is David Mitchell; he’s responsible for my interest in writing, and most recently his own works have branched into both science fiction and horror (Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks, Slade House).

WYTOVICH: You’re working on the fourth installment of the Chiral Mad series now. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you with the project in the first place and where you see it going in the future?

BAILEY: The goal was for Chiral Mad 3 to end the series; that of course was after not fulfilling a promise to never do sequels, thanks to Chiral Mad 2. I thought, Let’s go out big with this series, get this third and final volume illustrated throughout by someone like Glenn Chadbourne (who ended up creating 45 illustrations total), get some incredibly heavy hitters like Stephen King involved, and have poetry as well, and Chuck Palahniuk can do the freaking introduction, even. Let’s make this thing incredible. Let’s end this series on a high-note! And for a while, I thought that’s exactly what I did with the book. I couldn’t be more proud of how Chiral Mad 3 turned out. It’s the most beautiful book I’ve created to-date. And then the world started splitting. People started taking sides on various matters, some topics important, some not so important. Mudslingers everywhere, it seemed. The bizarro community, the science fiction community, the horror community … all these virtual “writing communities” (a term as non-important as “genre” in reality) shooting hate around like Nerf darts in some kind of social network mass-war-amongst-ourselves, when what the world really needs is cohesiveness, people working together to move forward (and all that kumbaya), a collaboration of minds. So then I thought, Crap. And then I thought, Chiral Mad 4 could be completely collaborative. If people wanted this book to happen, I felt they’d have to work together to make it happen, and since it would be a fourth volume in the series: What if the anthology had 4 short stories, 4 novelettes, 4 novellas, and 4 graphic adaptations: all collaborations? I eventually decided the editing should be collaborative as well, and invited Lucy A. Snyder as co-editor. Together we’ve made it our goal to make Chiral Mad 4 the most diversely incredible anthology imaginable. And now the submissions are piling in. All over the world, writers and artists working together, collaborations that may have never happened otherwise. If anything, we’ve called a giant “time-out” for a while so everyone can pick up their Nerf darts (whether to be put away or readied for battle is unclear at this point). Will the series end with this fourth volume? I don’t know. Maybe the series will continue to evolve over time, getting better and better. Maybe the world will continue to evolve, and do the same.

WYTOVICH: Chiral Mad 3 has also been nominated for the Bram Stoker award and this particular book featured both prose and poetry. What made you decide to include both forms? What did you like best about the project, or perhaps, what surprised you most while editing it?

BAILEY: I’m a fan of poetry, although I’m not sure if 1) I’m any good at writing it, or 2) I’m good at recognizing whether or not poetry is good. My own two collections, Scales and Petals, and Inkblots and Blood Spots, feature both fiction and poetry. Am I any good? I don’t know. I just write poetry because it sometimes wants out of me. All of my poetry is mathematically structured. Is that a thing? I’m not sure of that, either. I don’t know all the rules. Are there even rules? My goal is to create something powerful with minimal words, and I guess that’s what I look for when I read poetry for anthologies, and I guess this makes me have certain tastes. I’m not a critic, by any means, but I’ve been told by others with apparently exceptional taste that the poetry within Chiral Mad 3 is rather good, as well as the poetry included in You, Human. The science-fiction anthology Qualia Nous contained only one poem by Marge Simon, which ended up winning a Rhysling Award that year from the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), so perhaps I have good taste in poetry after all. The poetry guidelines for Chiral Mad 3 were unique. The request was for two poems from each contributor, which I eventually structured throughout the book so they’d mirror each other in the Table of Contents, each poem placed so the contents went story/poem/story/poem/story, thus making the entire book chiral in structure. What I liked best about the project was perhaps the flow this created when reading the book cover to cover, and the fact that most of the poetry I received came from fiction writers, not necessarily known for their poetry. I think the anthology turned out beautifully, but that’s just my opinion, my taste. Chiral Mad 4 will not contain poetry, and neither will my next collection, The Impossible Weight of Life (mostly long fiction), but that won’t stop me from including poetry in the future.

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

BAILEY: I’ve read so many novels this last year that I’ve cleared off my TBR pile completely, but I have some catch-up to do on books that have waited on the FTBR (future TBR) pile for a while now, and have now graduated to TBR. These include Raymond Carver’s collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (a book, like many others, that I had started, set aside, and hadn’t returned to yet), re-reading George Orwell’s 1984, Neil Gaiman’s collections, Fragile Things and Trigger Warnings (two other books I’ve stopped and need to re-start), John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Harbor, and J. Lincoln Fenn’s Poe (since I loved Dead Souls). The rest of my new TBR is filled with works not yet published. Gene O’Neill and I are going go see Kim Stanley Robinson for his release of New York 2140, which is a massive 624-page novel about a futuristic New York City, so I’ll be adding that to my pile as well.

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?

BAILEY: Despite the fact that “genre” is simply a bookstore label, horror is on the rise—if we must have a label for it. I don’t consider myself a horror writer, yet some people do; I don’t consider myself on the rise (not by far), but some people do. I just write what I need to write and publish whenever and wherever I can; some things dark, some not-so-dark, some not even speculative. Maybe someday I’ll do well enough with all this book stuff to no longer need that day job and can write/edit/publish fulltime, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon (unless there’s an agent out there willing to shop me some sort of multi-book deal with a publisher … anyone?), and if such a thing ever happens, my stuff will most likely not be marketed as “horror” at all. I read over a hundred “horror” novels last year, and half-read/skimmed-through a hundred more; nearly all were from small or mid-size publishers, and only a handful from imprints of large publishers. Horror is thriving in small and mid-size press (mostly small, and marketed as horror), and a very small portion of these leak into big press (albeit not marketed as horror). Authors like Sarah Pinborough are making bestseller lists, Stephen King is still cranking out books each year (perhaps he’s still considered horror, I don’t know), even collaborating with non-relatives, people like Richard Chizmar of Cemetery Dance (a publisher that screams horror). Authors like Michael Marshall Smith and Josh Malerman are getting six-figure, multi-book deals, and rightfully so. More “horror” writers need to leak into big publishers’ hands this way, and I believe that’s the trend we’ll see. That said, and to beat a dead horse once again: these writers, and their books, will not be marketed as horror. Other than that, look for a rise in standalone novellas from small and mid-size presses, and more collaborative projects in all forms.

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

BAILEY: Besides the projects mentioned in this interview, readers can look forward to a few long fiction pieces of mine popping up in anthologies here and there (to be kept in secret at this time, unfortunately). For fans of dark science fiction, I’m currently co-editing an anthology with Darren Speegle called Adam’s Ladder, to be published later this year by Dark Regions Press. If I can somehow find the time, I’d like to finish my fourth novel, Seen in Distant Stars, which is a literary/soft science fiction thriller that deals with SIDS (an acronym of the title) and stars disappearing from the night sky. I think this will be an incredibly powerful and moving novel, and more mainstream than anything I’ve written before. I also hope to have some exciting Psychotropic Dragon news soon, although I can announce the meta-novel will have three illustrators for each of its three parts: Daniele Serra (novelette), Glenn Chadbourne (novella), and Ty Scheueruman (short novel). Other books I’m working on at Written Backwards include Yes Trespassing, the debut fiction collection by Erik T. Johnson, and The Far Future, book four of The Cal Wild Chronicles by Gene O’Neill (finally wrapping up that multi-book project). I’ve also hinted online about a nonfiction book simply called Book, with a completely generic cover, like generic packaging from the 80’s. And last but not least, hopefully my readers can look forward to me having an agent. Anyone? Anyone? I’m throwing out gold bars here! There’s gotta be an agent looking for gold bars reading this interview, right?

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

BAILEY: I’ll give four. 1) Read (and understand) guidelines before submitting your work. For example, Chiral Mad 4 is looking for collaborative works (written by more than one person) in the ranges of 5,000 words, 10,000 words, and 20,000 words, as well as graphic adaptations up to 10 pages in length. Please do not send solo-authored flash fiction pieces, complete novels, short story collections, 150,000-word space operas, 1,800-word stories written by you (but it was your wife’s idea, really, so it’s collaborative, right?), or your friend had this really cool idea and you wrote the entire thing and you’re unsure if you should put his name on there as co-author (you shouldn’t), three or four or five stories all at once (hoping we have time to read them all and will pick the best one out of the litter) all written only by you, or stories that meet the guidelines but actually don’t because the story was written by you and your fake pen-name. Yes, I’ve seen all of these things so far with Chiral Mad 4 submissions and have to weed them out; 2) Write the most beautiful words you are capable of writing; 3) Learn the art of self-editing and keep chiseling away until there’s nothing left but the good stuff; and 4) Read at a ratio of at least a hundred or more words than you write.

Friday, March 10, 2017

An Open Letter to the English Degree: You're Not Worthless

Diana Gabaldon, author of the OUTLANDER series, recently tweeted about the unsavory choice to major in English, and the internet responded…well, as the internet usually responds to comments that are destructive and full of ignorance: with force.

Not only was her tweet a slap in the face to English majors, but it was also a jab at those who work in the fast food industry. As someone who waitressed six years to put herself through college, and who then worked at least three jobs at any given time in order to set herself up for the life and career she wanted as a writer, this is not only offensive, but disappointing.

Now, I’m going to take a moment here and start off by saying that my English degree has quite literally provided me with everything that I have in this life, both professionally and personally. That's not to say that all of this would have been impossible without the degree, but rather enforces the fact that the degree, itself, is not in fact, worthless. Every job that I’ve landed has been because of either  my verbal skills, my blog, my publications, my teaching experience, etc., all because I was mentored and taught how to communicate efficiently, effectively, and properly.  

After earning my degree in English Literature, I went on to continue my education by earning a MFA. While studying at university,  I met my publishers at an open-mic poetry reading and then went on to earn five Bram Stoker award-nominations, publish four solo poetry collections and one novel, go to Ireland, work in a corporate office for an accounting firm, and continue to write and travel and earn a living based off skills that I 100% wouldn’t have if I wasn’t for my education.

I’ve met life-long friends and wonderful colleagues during my studies, and in the process of doing blog tours, and conferences, readings and fundraisers, I’ve met and been published alongside my heroes, all while paying my rent and still being able to splurge on an Italian-leather briefcase that I picked up when I was helping run a writer’s residency in Dublin, Ireland.

Now, the counter argument here is that one can get a variety of the same jobs and go on to still be a writer and get employed without a degree in English, and yeah, that’s true. You can. But keep in mind, you’ll be going up against people in the job market who have an English degree and who most likely have sharper skills and a more intricate background of internships, magazine experience, and editorial work than you do. 

Furthermore, the English degree also teaches you how to:
  • Create and maintain a blog;
  • Create a website;
  • Conduct an interview (thank you, journalism background);
  • Overcome your fear of public speaking;
  • Write a proper query letter;
  • Write a book summary;
  • Write a book review;
  • Learn the ins and outs of the publishing industry;
  • Meet and connect with critique partners, writing groups, and beta readers;
  • Research industry standards and not only read the nuts and bolts of what is required of an independent writer, but understand the practices and concerns of signing a contract, maintaining a business and doing your taxes; and
  • Learn how to write a scholarly paper with a clear thesis statement and properly cited sources according to the format style of choice.

If I didn’t major in English, I wouldn’t have a community of readers and writers who support me and lift me up when the words don’t want to come. I wouldn’t have the outlet to create stories that are properly developed in regard to character, plot, and setting. I wouldn’t be able to pay my student loans because writing has always been my best, most marketable skill, and without it, I would have majored in something that bored me or perhaps gone on to work in a field that wasn't fulfilling, probably ended up quitting, and then did something that paid me less than what I deserved. But most importantly, I wouldn’t have been happy because I would have chosen something else that someone other than me thought was more practical to my life. I would have been miserable working in a full-time job that I hated because it’s what I had to do in order to survive, and then maybe, sure, I would have written occasionally when the depression wasn’t too bad, or when I had the energy or desire to do so because my work flow was 45 hours a week, and my travel time was an additional 10 hours a week on top of that, and then the laundry needed to be done, and the bathroom needed to be cleaned, and on and on and on…

But yeah, my degree was a bad decision.
Happiness is overrated. 

In total support of the English Degree,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


Dearest Readers:

Today in the MADHOUSE, I'm happy to sit down with one of my dear friends and fellow madwomen, Lisa Mannetti. Lisa and I had a nice talk at Necon this past summer about all things mad and revolting--and naturally we had these delightful little chats over a Bellini (or two, or three)!--and as such, I wanted to invite her into the asylum to sit down and chat with me about her Bram Stoker award-nominated story, "“Arbeit Macht Frei,” which was published in Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories through Crystal Lake Publishing.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Mannetti's work, her debut novel, The Gentling Box, garnered a Bram Stoker Award and she has since been nominated five times for the prominent award in both the short and long fiction categories: Her story, “Everybody Wins,” was made into a short film and her novella, “Dissolution,” will soon be a feature-length film directed by Paul Leyden. Recent short stories include “Esmeralda’s Stocking” in Never Fear: Christmas Terrors; “Resurgam” in Zombies: More Recent Dead edited by Paula Guran; “The Hermit” in Never Fear: The Tarot; and “Arbeit Macht Frei” in Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories. Her work, including The Gentling Box, “1925: A Fall River Halloween,” and The Box Jumper, has been translated into Italian.

Purchase Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories here!
Her most recently published longer work, The Box Jumper, a novella about Houdini, was not only been nominated for a 2015 Bram Stoker Award and the prestigious Shirley Jackson Award, it won the “Novella of the Year” award from This is Horror in the UK

She has also authored The New Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, two companion novellas in her collection, Deathwatch, a macabre gag book, 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave your Lover, as well as non-fiction books, and numerous articles and short stories in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. Forthcoming works include, “Apocalypse Then” in Never Fear: The Apocalypse, several other short stories, and a dark novel about the dial-painter tragedy in the post-WWI era, Radium Girl.

Lisa lives in New York in the 100 year old house she originally grew up in with two wily (mostly black) twin cats named Harry and Theo Houdini.

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

MANNETTI: I’ve always had a deep, abiding interest in the Holocaust including the events that led up to it, its duration and aftermath. As a matter of fact, the very first dream I can ever recall from my own life was of Nazi boots coming up a flight of stairs to take me away—forever—from my family.  Eligia’s dream in the short story was actually my own, except that I was three when I had the dream and the location was my favorite aunt’s house.

I’m also acquainted with a Holocaust survivor—although she was a hidden child—like Anne Frank in the Netherlands. Additionally, I grew up living next door to a man who (aside from being a Polish count) was a member of the resistance. Luckily he, like my survivor-friend, Ilse Loeb, escaped death several times.

It’s been my intention for many years to write about the subject. I’ve read many, many books in and out of my coursework—as well as watching numerous films. In the late 90s, I even taught a section on the Holocaust when I was an adjunct instructor at SUNY New Paltz.

The story itself (which I researched an additional six weeks before I ever began writing it) takes its cue from a line in Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, about how some people were heroes, others not only less than heroic, but driven out of desperation. I’m paraphrasing here, but she says something like, “You couldn’t really blame people if they weren’t noble or even good, because the Nazis turned them into animals.” My character, a teen-aged girl, is swayed by a girl she admires and haunted by her parents’ bad marriage and makes the wrong choices. At the end of the story she strives for some type of atonement, something that may alleviate the guilt she feels over what she’s thoughtlessly done to her mother. Or, she recognizes, may not. She certainly believes—at a very deep level—she needs to punish herself for what has transpired.

WYTOVICH: This particular piece is in the Crystal Lake anthology, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories. What does “beautiful horror” mean to you?

MANNETTI:  Well William Blake limns this concept:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 
In the forests of the night; 
What immortal hand or eye, 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” 

And he certainly expresses it better than I could, when he also asks:

“And what shoulder, and what art, 
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?”

I think there is both symmetry and beauty inside most good horror and certainly in tragedy. In my character’s case, she’s lured by a combination of the anger and despair she felt when her parents divorced, by her current sense of desperation, by the fantasy of beauty she feels she’s missed out and, having suffered, feels (at least temporarily) entitled to.

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

MANNETTI: Easiest is doing research for me. First of all I really love it. Secondly, I found over time, it really helps spark the work. Character development, situation and plot have a way of becoming clearer as you research a subject.

Hardest for me is ferreting out the plot points (I usually know the ending before I reach the half-way point) because I tend to write organically, letting characters grow and develop. It means extra time involved, but usually the results (for me, at least) are worth it.

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

MANNETTI: Each story dictates the form in my opinion. Through trial and error I’ve discovered that some short stories (no matter how you try and condense) are actually novellas or novels, and some novels would be served better if you used just the spine (or through story) and wrapped the whole thing up in 5,000 words.

Structurally, I tend to like opening with a hint of the ending and move backward through flashback to bring the reader up to date with events, then have the ending written as the “now” of the story. I think it can add tension to the work and I really like frame stories.

I tend to write first person p.o.v. when the story is set in the past or has something so quirky it will be easier for the reader to enter into the piece if subconsciously he or she can readily identify with the character. I also find first person tends to pack a bigger wallop emotionally.

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

MANNETTI: I like things dark and complicated; so, in no particular order here’s a group of writers I reread frequently: Coleridge,  Jonathan Swift, Defoe, Theodore Dreiser, Bram Stoker, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters,  Mauriac,  Mark Twain (I also like satire),  Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, J.P. Donleavy, Kingsley Amis,  Peter Straub, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Truman Capote, Douglas Clegg, Jack Ketchum, Elizabeth Massie, John Irving, William Styron--and a whole bunch more I can’t think of at the moment.

I also love to read: true crime books, fairy tales, children’s books, biographies and non-fiction in general.

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

MANNETTI: Basically I am a scaredy-cat. I’ve always had dark dreams (last night’s, for example) was a real beaut: I dreamt I was told I had a brain-tumor and the operation to save me involved cutting off my head. The really interesting part was seeing my reflection recuperating post-up in a plate-glass window, walking by head intact, smoking and talking. My mother was a public health director so she talked a lot about diseases (not to mention all the books she had lying around) and my older brother watched a lot of scary movies and TV, so my family sort of sucked me in—maybe they thought it would help with the night terrors I suffered for years. And maybe not, since I slept with the lights on till I was about thirty. At any rate, even the first story I ever wrote was about vampires. My mother liked it, but I think she was being generous since I was only eight.

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

MANNETTI: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough; Law and Disorder by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker; The Magician by Somerset Maugham; The Crowd by Gustave Le Bon; The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow; The People of the Abyss by Jack London; What Maisie Knew by Henry James; Jonathan Strange and Mr. Novrell by Susanna Clarke; The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard; Scott of the Antarctic: A Biography by David Crane; Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving; plus a bunch more for researching stories and books.         

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

MANNETTI: I have a bunch of stories both in the works and scheduled to come out in various anthologies.

At present I’m working on a novel called RADIUM GIRL which is set in the post WWI era and has a protagonist who worked at a New Jersey dial-painting factory (where all the girls ingested radium unwittingly). As the story opens she can no longer walk, she’s been hideously disfigured by a tumor on her jaw and, to help her family with expenses she resorts to displaying her body in a circus freak show. I do like historical horror and, of course, bizarre circumstances.

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

MANNETTI: Read every day. Read everything that you can get your hands on. It’s as much a part of the job as the writing itself. If you familiarize yourself with what’s already been written in the genre, it will help you struggle to write something that’s fresh and original. If you read outside the genre, it can spark a lot of ideas and help with character development and plot. Rearrange, reschedule, carve out that private niche; beg, borrow or steal time for reading—and make sure you read every single day.

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