Saturday, October 27, 2018

LIGHT AS A FEATHER, STIFF AS A BOARD: LITERARY AND HISTORIC REFERENCES IN THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA


I—like so many of you, I’m sure—have been watching Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Now I’m not even halfway through yet, but I have to say, the literature and history nerd in me is totally alive and well as I jump into Greendale and hang out with the Spellman family.

After a quick spell in Salem, MA a few weeks ago, the history and ghosts of the men and women involved in the Salem Witch Trials is still whispering to me at night. Couple that with the fact that I’ve been teaching Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson, and Henry James the last few classes, and it’s easy to see why the occult has been brewing in my head.

What I love most about this series so far is how much the writers are pulling from literature to build their characters while still managing to pay homage to the past. Some of the examples I’ve seen so far:

Principal Hawthorne: This is a nod to either one of two people: (1) Nathaniel Hawthorne, who is a famous American writer who wrote about witchcraft in an effort to assuage the crimes of his ancestors, who were directly involved in the Salem Witch Trials. (Side note: He was so ashamed by his family’s actions that he even added a “W” to his last name in an effort to remove himself from them. My recommendation for those interested in checking out his work: “Young Goodman Brown”) OR (2) John Hathorne, who was one of the judges for the Salem Witch Trials who took on the role of prosecutor and became the only judge not to repent for his actions.

          “The whole forest was peopled with frightful sounds--the creaking of the trees, the howling of            wild beasts, and the yell of Indians; while sometimes the wind tolled like a distant church bell,            and sometimes gave a broad roar around the traveler, as if all Nature were laughing him to 
          scorn. But he was himself the chief horror of the scene and shrank not from its other horrors.” -
          Nathaniel Hawthorne.


Salem the Cat: This one is a pretty obvious choice what with the witch trails happening in Salem, MA and all, but for those of you interested in reading more about what happened there in 1692, I recommend the book A Season with the Witch by J.W. Ocker.



The Weird Sisters: The Weird Sisters are the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and if you look closely, they have a striking similarity to the Fates (Past, Present, and Future) of Greek Mythology. These are wise women, fortune tellers, masters of divination. In Macbeth, they act as beacons of Macbeth’s future, and in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, they act as entities trying to control Sabrina’s fate. I don’t need to say that I’m a fan of the feminist twist that's happening in this show, but what’s worth noting here is how Sabrina takes control of her life and focuses on the embodiment of free will.

            “What are these,
            So withered, and so wild in their attire,
            That look not like th'inhabitants o'th' earth
            And yet are on't? - Live you, or are you aught
            That man may question? You seem to understand me,
            By each at once her choppy finger laying
            Upon her skinny lips. You should be women,
            And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
            That you are so.”  ― 
William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Susie Putnam: Susie Putnam is one of Sabrina’s closet friends in the show, and she’s someone who Sabrina is constantly trying to protect as she’s become a target of sexual abuse / gender shaming. She tells Sabrina at one point that four football payers lifted up her shirt to see if she was a girl, and when Sabrina took this to Principal Hawthorne, he asked her if the two of them were trying to start a witch hunt. How this relates to history is that Ann Putnam, who was a child at the time in Salem, MA, was friends with the girls who helped to start the witch hysteria in 1692, and who also claimed to be afflicted by witchcraft herself. Unlike some of the others, Ann made it out alive and apologized for her actions years later.

Quentin: Quentin is a ghost child who watches over Sabrina when she first enters The Academy of Unseen Arts. We find out that he is a victim of The Harrowing and that he—and the others—want revenge (thank you Auntie Hilda!) on those who are continuing this dangerous hazing ritual at the school. While this one is a bit of a stretch, it reminded me of Quint from “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James. Quint’s character is also a ghost who is attached to Bly and seems to have his heart set on Miles.  Again, this would be another example of flipping the character’s intent as Quentin in the show is there to help Sabrina, rather than act as her undoing.

The references I’ve listed above have made my own adventures with the show a lot of fun, and when you couple that with the feminist overtones and how the women are supporting each other throughout the series (seriously, that WICCA club made be so happy), it’s easy to see why I’ve so quickly become a fan. I plan to write more as I make my way through the series, but in the meantime, I’m curious: what references have you folks picked up on so far? Leave them in the comments!

With star dust and fire,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Season of the Witch: Wytovich Heads to Salem and the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival


Last week/end, Dennis and I drove up to Massachusetts for the 4th annual MerrimackValley Halloween Book Festival, but before that, we made a pit stop in Salem for some witchy fun. Now Salem, MA has been on my travel-list for, quite honestly, as long as I can remember. I’m a huge Nathaniel Hawthorne fan, and obviously I feel a pull there for spiritual reasons as well, so when we rolled into town Thursday morning, I was beyond excited (despite the rain).

Thursday

I was a tad bit afraid that the commercialism for tourists (like myself) would ruin the experience for me, but honestly, I loved it. All the witches running around, the black/orange streamers and banners, the apple cider donut stands, etc. made it a beautiful fall event, and I was happy to grab a drink at one of many bars that lined Essex Street…which reminds me! If you folks like pumpkin beer, you totally have to try this drink It’s Shipyard Pumpkin with a cinnamon sugar rim and a shot of rum. Delicious!

On our first day there, we tackled the Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Memorial, saw the Hawthorne Statue, the Bewitched Statue, and the Roger Conant statue (the founder of Salem in 1626). Looking back on the trip, the Witch Memorial was easily one of my favorite parts because no matter how much you read or study something, there’s nothing like standing in history. There were individual stones for each person who died as a result of the Salem witch trials, and lots of people were leaving roses and offerings in memory of them. It was surprisingly emotional, and the graveyard itself (The Old Burying Point) was stunningly beautiful. I saw stones from the early 1700s, and more that had no dates and more wear, so I suspect they were probably older.

After that, we did some shopping and grabbed some snacks. I even finally got to get a past-life reading, which was eye opening on a lot of levels, some of which are too personal to write about here, but I suspect they'll end up in my poetry sooner or later. I will say that after hearing everything, certain aspects of my life make a lot more sense, and the themes of my books are obviously trends that have been passionate to me in past lives…particularly Brothel. Wink-wink.

Friday

We spent the night at a lovely Aribnb in Manchester-by-the-Sea and had a fantastic seafood dinner (if you ever are near Lobstaland, definitely check it out!). The next morning, we traveled back to Salem for more shopping and relaxation, and by the time we left, I had a bag full of herbs and bones, which honestly, seems just about right. I also got to stop at The Witch House, Count Orlock's Monster Museum, and The House of the Seven Gables, which made my literary heart smile. Also, as a quick aside, my favorite book shop that I visited there was Pyramid Books, and my favorite witch store was easily The Coven's Cottage.

Saturday

We got up early Saturday morning and headed to the Haverhill Public Library where I got to see my writing tribe, hug lots of friends (and people I consider family), sell books, meet new friends and colleagues, and chat about Halloween. The event itself is huge, and Christopher Golden did a fantastic job (as usual) organizing everything and championing our writing. I sold a ton of books, got to sit on a Halloween reads panel (hat-tip to James Moore, Kat Howard, Thomas Sniegoskii, and Glenn Chadbourne), and get some books signed, too. Afterwards, we all headed over to The Loft where we shared a meal and got to chat some more, and by the end, hugs and drinks were had all around and we called the day a success!

Sunday

I’d like to say that we finally got to sleep in on our trip today, but that’s not how I roll when I travel. Dennis and I got up and ready, and after a quick breakfast, we drove to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where I got to pay my respects to NathanielHawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa M. Alcott. I spent some time at each of their headstones, thanked them for their art, and left offerings at the grave.

All in all, this trip was everything that I could have wanted and more. I left with some beautiful memories and some great art and herbs, and I’m happy to have checked another place off my bucket list. I very much expect that Dennis and I will be returning to Salem (and MA in general) sooner rather than later, but until then, I have enough bones, writing, and spellwork to keep me busy.

With graveyard dust and lotus pods,
Stephanie M. Wytovich


Monday, October 8, 2018

SEX AND DEATH IN THE MADHOUSE: AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH AUTUMN CHRISTIAN


Hello Friends and Fiends!

Today in the Madhouse, I have the pleasure of chatting with Autumn Christian about her upcoming novel, Girl Like a BombChristian is a fiction writer from Texas who currently lives in California. She is the author of the books The Crooked God Machine, We are Wormwood, and Ecstatic Inferno, and has written for several video-games, including Battle Nations and State of Decay 2. When not writing, she is usually practicing her side kicks and running with dogs or posting strange and existential Instagram selfies.


Girl Like a Bomb, coming soon from Clash Books, is a novel of self-discovery, an existential labyrinth of love, sex, and self-actualization where the only way out is through. When high schooler Beverly Sykes finally has sex, her whole life changes. She feels an explosion inside of her that feels like her DNA is being rearranged, and she discovers a strange power within. After chasing that transcendent feeling and fucking her way through the good, the bad, and the dangerous boys and girls that cross her path, Beverly notices that all of her ex-lovers are undergoing drastic changes. She witnesses them transcending their former flawed selves, becoming self-actualized and strong. Beverly gives herself over and over to others, but can she become who she is supposed to be, with the gift and curse that nature gave to her?


I recently had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of the book, and I found myself engrossed in a world of sex, death, and self-discovery. I loved how Beverly lived her life by her own rules and how she embraced who she was without shame or regret. As such, I wanted to sit down with Autumn and chat a little about the process behind the book as well as some find out some of her favorite parts of it now that it's finished.

I hope you enjoy the interview, and if you're interested in pre-ordering the book, you can do so here. Also, I encourage you all to join her newsletter to stay up-to-date with her writing.

With Glitter and Perfume,
Stephanie M. Wytovich 


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

GIRL LIKE A BOMB is the psychosexual journey of a girl named Beverly Sykes. Beverly just wants to have sex. A lot of sex. But she soon discovers that she can heal people’s mental wounds and help them achieve self-actualization through sex, and soon sets out to save the world. It represents the labyrinthine journey to the center of the soul, with all its confetti and magma and what it takes to become the best version of yourself.

I wanted to write this story because it was unlike anything I’d ever written before. I normally write about things like plague machines, horrific demiurges, and brain implants that turn people into philosophical zombies. I wanted to expand the mythology of my writing and try something a little different.

What I loved most about Beverly’s character is how sex-positive she is. What other books and authors inspire you when it comes to sending this message, i.e. what books can readers run to for more body-positive brain food?

It wasn’t my intention to make it a sex positive book, but Beverly knows what she wants and isn’t shy about it. The positivity comes out of her character, not my inherent desire for positivity. I was more inspired by books about bad girls, by books of people who lived on the outskirts, like authors Henry Miller, Bukowski, Kathy Acker, and Jean Genet. I chose sex as the method of her magical transference because sex is so integral to who we are as human beings, and our feelings about sex are also how we in general feel about our interactions with others. I used to go around jokingly saying that I was the female Bukowski, but I always felt role models for rebellious women were lacking.

I was also inspired by the movies “Kids” and “Nymphomaniac Vol 1,” which showed a rowdy, sometimes excruciating, life on the edge of experience.

Some inspiration:

The Collected Stories of Colette - Colette
The Torn Skirt - Rebecca Godfrey
Anything by Kathy Acker
Delta of Venus - Anais Nin

Beverly’s character, while based in reality, encompasses a hint of magical realism in regard to her sexual powers. While I don’t necessarily like placing books in a genre label, I’m curious what you would pick if you had to pick one.

I’d say GIRL LIKE A BOMB is part literary fiction, part YA, part fantasy, part horror. I’d best categorize it as a hybrid, but if I had to place it in a single genre I’d say literary fiction. (The vaguest of the genres!)

When readers talk about the hero’s journey, they reference the three stages of development: separation, initiation, and return. For you, which was your favorite part to write, and do you consider Beverly a hero? Or does she represent something else to you altogether?

Every single one of us is going through a hero’s journey, which is why it’s such a universal story. We’re all shuttled into the world without a fucking clue as to who or what we are and are fumbling through a dark tunnel that billions of other people have traversed, also alone. A hero is someone who elevates the human race. Heroes slay the dragons and invent rockets and make sure there are federal highways, so you buy your toilet paper and grape juice without struggle. Beverly is a hero too, in her own way.

My favorite part to write was the first half of the book, when she’s just discovering her powers and coming into her own. But beginnings are always fun. It’s when reality sets in and you realize that you have to live with the choices that you previously made that fun becomes a complication. That’s also when the writing gets more difficult, when you have to take all the threads you’ve created and do something wonderful (or terrible) with them.

If Beverly was going on a first date, what would she wear?

It depends on the stage of her life, but in her early twenties: Crop top, designer leather jacket, black skinny jeans, glitter eyeshadow, red high heels. She’d have her hair curled and be wearing her favorite red lipstick. She’d be carrying a loud and expensive purse like Chanel or Balenciaga. She’s there to make an entrance and get noticed.

Can you give us an insight into your writing process? Any habits when you sit down to write?

Coffee, loud music, headphones, a dash of optimism and a death wish. I sometimes feel like I’m hanging off the edge of the world and barely grasping onto my keyboard. Sometimes I like to write stream of consciousness, and then later go back and refine it with a more critical eye. GIRL LIKE A BOMB went through about five rewrites with Christoph editing. To me, writing is a constant process of refinement, and Christoph is a very analytical, in-depth editor.

What takeaway do you hope your readers leave your book with?

A book is a very personal thing. I want people to connect it to their own lives and make their own conclusions.

What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

I read a wide variety of books, and the TBR pile is never-ending.  Here’s a few of them:

Microworlds - Stanislaw Lem
Cybernetix - Carlton Mellick III
Black Chamber - S.M. Stirling
Maps of Meaning - Jordan Peterson
The Death of Vishnu - Manil Suri

What is next in store for your readers?

I’m currently working on two projects. Both are horror, but in much different ways.

What advice do you have for writers working in fiction?

Have some fucking fun with it. People take writing so seriously. It’s art. it’s supposed to be entertainment. It’s an expression of being alive. It’s a testament and a celebration of being human. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point? If you’re in it for the secondary rewards, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

Also - it’s all about the work. Everything else - publishing, writing friends, marketing - is all secondary to the work. And the work needs to be driven by passion. By fun. You’re going to be spending 98% of the time in a room alone by yourself, and you need to be driven in order to do that.

Drink whiskey and laugh. Dance to techno. Do four espresso shots in a row and buy the loudest keyboard you can off of Amazon. Write what your little heart desires. Write silly things that you don’t think will ever be published. Write the crazy characters that dance around in your head. Create outrageous metaphors. Write like you’re racing against death to finish your book.