Thursday, October 12, 2017


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

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

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.

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