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.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

TIFFANY SCANDAL TRAPPED IN MADHOUSE

Hi Everyone--

Today in the MADHOUSE, I'm chatting with Tiffany Scandal about her punk rock, feminist horror book, Shit Luck. I told myself this year that I was going to make a point to get to some of the books I've been staring at on my to-read list forever now, such as: Shit Luck by Tiffany Scandal, The Green Kangaroos by Jessica McHugh, Glue by Constance Ann Fitzgerald, and Puppet Skin by Danger Slater. I'm happy to say that I've been making good progress on my goals, and this one in particular was an absolute blast to read. I laughed. I cringed. I gasped. The story always kept me guessing, and to me, was a mixture of Nightmare on Elm Street meets Groundhog Day.

So do enjoy our chat below, and be sure to check out Shit Luck along with the many other cool projects Tiffany has on deck. You won't be regret it, and much like the character you're about to meet, I'm sure you'll keep coming back for more.

Trapped in a slasher movie,
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?
           
Shit Luck is an absurd, dark comedy. It’s about a woman who is having such an awful time and then she dies, only to reawaken someplace else and forced to resume a different life. But her terrible luck follows her as she becomes of the focus and obsession of a crazed murderer. So even after death, she just can’t catch a break.

The idea for Shit Luck actually spawned from a Bizarre World Building workshop at BizarroCon (taught by Cody Goodfellow). The assignment was to outline a novella based on what happens to your main character after they die. Because my previous works have been so bleak, I wanted to try to write something on the funny side. So I sketched out an outline that was heavily inspired by Monty Python and slasher movies from the 80s. My idea was received so well, that my editor, who had heard about my assignment in the workshop, caught up with me during the con and asked me to actually write out the novella for publication.

This book is goofy, and as the story progresses, the protagonist realizes that there’s no point in being afraid of dying anymore. How fucking liberating is that? To live everyday as though it might be your last. So many people are preoccupied with fear of death, or what happens after death, that they don’t really live their life to the fullest. So just say, “fuck it,” and party.

Can you talk a little about the main character and the inspiration you used for her, as well as your decision to 1) leave her nameless and 2) write in second person point-of-view?
           
Oh, man. I rewrote her so many times. I went through a list of names, traits, everything. And it all felt wrong. I wasn’t having fun. So to make writing fun again, I imagined a love child between Patsy Stone and Sterling Archer. And her name being a mystery to the reader just seemed to fit. Like how fucked up is that you’re having such an awful day, and people can’t even get your name right? The second-person narrative contained the action needed to keep the story flowing. It’s easier to feel the stakes at hand because you’re imagining yourself in the shoes of the character.
           
           
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?

I loved creating new lives for her. Once I figured out the tone and overall arc, I was really able to go crazy with tormenting her in awful, but kind of funny ways to thicken her skin. I had the hardest time with the Heinland chapter. I rewrote that chapter so many times, and because it was a huge turning point in the protagonist’s development, I couldn’t just skip it. I nearly scrapped the entire book because I couldn’t get that chapter to work. I vented to my partner about my frustrations. We drank whiskey and talked about it, and suddenly, it made sense. I rewrote the final version of that chapter the next day.



The book itself revolves around cycles, which is something that I find fascinating as I’ve been intrigued with the concept of the uncanny and Freud’s repetition phenomena for quite some time now. In a lot of ways, Shit Luck even reads like a feminist horror version of Groundhog Day, so I have to ask, what is your favorite slasher movie? And are you excited to see Happy Death Day (October 13, Blumhouse Productions)?

I love that you said that. Thank you. I had drinks with Chuck Palahniuk and when he asked what I write, I blurted out weird feminist horror. No matter what I intend to write, the tone is always there.

Favorite slasher movie? Fuck. I can’t just pick one. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, and the Nightmare on Elm Street series all have a special place in my heart.

So I had to look up Happy Death Day. I am neither hip nor with it, and I have a really poor concept of what’s new and exciting. While parts of it feel familiar, it does seem like a fun take on a slasher film. I’ll probably watch it.


As I’m sure many people will say, there’s a powerhouse scene in the book that totally rocks the table and that’s when the main character gets her period as she’s about to get intimate. The scene immediately reminded me of the prom scene in Carrie, and the part in Nightmare on Elm Street where Krueger kills Glen. What do you think this scene represents for feminist literature, and be honest, how fun was this part to write?

It’s my favorite chapter. Once I had the idea, I typed out the whole scene in less than two hours while sitting in a coffee shop. I cackled the entire time. People are so grossed out and bummed by periods, I had to write about the grossest one I could think of: The Evil Dead version of a period. The one that no person should be able to have and still be alive. For the sake of feminist literature, or just literature in general, we need normalize natural occurrences for women and not treat it like some taboo topic. The more casual and comfortable people talk and write about women pissing, shitting, burping, farting, menstruating, the less shocking chapters like this one will seem.


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

Terse. Weird. Feminist and punk as fuck.

What is next in store for your readers?

I’m currently writing a weird crime novel about a violent gang of young women. It’s called Perdida, and it’s due out in Spring of 2018.

I’m also curating and editing an anthology for King Shot Press, titled Nasty! It’ll feature a collection of non-fiction essays from female-identified writers sharing their experiences in finding the power and courage to be who they are and do what they do. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to Planned Parenthood.

I’ll have a short story in Word Horde’s Tales From a Talking Board anthology, and Clash Media’s Tragedy Queens anthology. There’s also a novelette I’m dropping later this month as a tribute to my best friend who passed away last year.

People are welcome to follow me on social media for all the crazy updates.


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?

I grew up obsessing over the words from R.L. Stein, Garcia Marquez, Borges, and Plath. Carlton Mellick III got me into the Bizarro Fiction genre. My reading is all over the place, but current literary references for inspiration are Roberto Bolano, Julio Cortazar, and Violet LeVoit. I’m also heavily influenced by the works of David Lynch.

Before I write anything, I have to have a general trajectory mapped out in my head. Scenes play like visions. And if my brain is blocked, I sit in warm water and meditate. Short stories I have to write in one day, so I’ll plan for weeks until I can visualize the whole thing. If I can’t finish the story in that day, I usually end up scrapping everything I wrote and start over.

I work best late at night or early in the morning. I’ll drink so much coffee, my hands shake. I talk out loud, pace, and physically act out scenes. During times that I’m writing, I’m grateful that my partner is also a writer, so he understands what I’m doing and doesn’t think I’m (too) crazy.

When I finish a project, I treat myself to something nice. Always.

What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

I’m currently working through Many Moons by Modern Women and Person/a by Elizabeth Ellen. I’m also reading advance copies of work from Nate Southard and Lucas Mangum. Books I have not touched yet, but hope to soon are The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan, The Warblers by Amber Fallon, We Will Never Meet In Real Life by Samantha Irby, Caca Dolce by Chelsea Martin, Itza by Rios de la Luz, Nails by MP Johnson, and Come Home, We Love You Still by Justin Grimbol.

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


Keep writing and always work to improve your craft. Also, don’t be a dick. 

Bio: 

Tiffany Scandal is the author of three books. The first, THERE'S NO HAPPY ENDING, is part of the 2013/2014 New Bizarro Author Series from Eraserhead Press. Her second book, JIGSAW YOUTH (Ladybox Books, 2015), has made numerous "Best Of" lists and is available as an audiobook which the author has narrated herself. She returns to Eraserhead Press for the release of her third and newest book, titled SHIT LUCK, which is already making waves and considered to be a great introduction to the Bizarro Fiction genre. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in Huck Magazine, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Living Dead Magazine, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, and a handful of anthologies. She is also a part-time model and photographer and the products of both endeavors can be found online and in print - most noteably: Suicide Girls, Auxiliary Magazine, Rise Tattoo Magazine, and a few artbooks. She currently resides in Portland, Oregon.

Twitter: tiffanyscandal
Instagram: rockpapersatan