Monday, March 1, 2021

February '21 Madhouse Recap

 Hello Friends and Fiends—

Can you believe it’s already March 1st? I feel like time has no meaning anymore, but February was full of lots of meditation and critical thinking for me, not to mention the celebration of Women in Horror Month. There were so many great spotlights and articles that ran throughout the past few weeks, and I wanted to take a moment to personally thank everyone who mentioned my name or promoted my books. It’s such an honor to have people read and talk about my words and that’s something that just never gets old.

I was fortunate to have LitReactor publish my WiHM article, which was a list of authors and books that have terrified me and/or completely taken my breath away. If you want to check that out, you can do so here: 5 Hauntingly Brilliant Women You Need to Read.

I also wanted to take a few minutes to bring some attention to the women I showcased on my blog last month: Laurel Hightower, Claire C. Holland, and R. J. Joseph. I asked each of them how they got involved or invested in the horror genre, and their responses were beautiful and noteworthy, and they showed that horror isn’t just a genre filled with blood and gore, but rather a means to talk openly about survival and justice and mental health, i.e., the human condition. If you haven’t checked out their words yet—here or elsewhere—please do. You won’t regret it. 

I also spent some time this month editing for a client, blurbing a fantastic poetry collection, and writing some poetry of my own. I did an interview about strange communications with Leza Cantoral and Lindsay Lerman via Black Telephone Magazine, and then I finetuned some details on a personal project of mine, too. I excitedly sent some work out for the first time in a long time, and also signed on for a project with Cemetery Gates Media where I’ll be writing a Litha/Midsummer inspired folk horror story to share with you all later this year.


Reading wise, I tackled the following books. Some were new to me, some were rereads, but what I can say is that my reading has felt all over the place lately, and I absolutely love that. For so long, I’ve shackled myself to the horror genre, and while that will forever and always be a staple in my TBR pile, it’s so nice to read outside of my primary genre, too, and as a writer, I feel like it better informs my writing, and then as a human, I also feel better informed about the world around me.

  •  Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix
    • Note: If you’ve read some of the books mentioned here, please let me know! I’m looking to purchase some more and I’m always down for suggestions/recommendations.
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The Witchcraft of Salem Village by Shirley Jackson
  • The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
    • Note: This was my classic read of the month. What should I pick up for March?
  • Drowned Country by Emily Tesh
  • Find Layla by Meg Elison
  • Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire
  • The Invention of Ghosts by Gwendolyn Kiste
    • The full review can be found over on my website here!
  • Plant Witchery by Juliet Diaz
  • Dearly by Margaret Atwood

March will bring with it a host of deadlines, both personal and professional—plus, my birthday! —and while I’m very much looking forward to tackling the work (and being SUPER caffeinated all month), I’m grateful that Dennis and I took some time last month to relax and reconnect. We walked in the cemetery, visited Phipps’s Conservatory’s Bonsai Tree and Orchid exhibition, cooked together and geeked out over WandaVision--which I'm loving (season finale this week!). I also did a ton of yard work last weekend, and while I’m definitely more of a fall/winter gal, I’m actually looking forward to Spring and to getting outside more, and I think a lot of that has to do with a book I’m currently reading about Forest Bathing…but more on that next month!

Until next time,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Monday, February 22, 2021

WRITING JUSTICE INTO EXISTENCE: THE SOCIAL IMPACTS OF HORROR WITH R.J. JOSEPH

Hello Friends and Fiends--

Today in the Madhouse, I'm sitting down with R.J. Joseph, a writer of exceptional talent and a scholar with razor-sharp intellect. She and I met at Seton Hill during one of the SHUWPF residencies, and not only is she the type of person who I could talk to for hours, but she has this beautiful energy and sense of humor that makes her light up any room she walks into. 

She's joining me today to talk about her origins with the horror genre, and how she uses her writing as a way to invoke themes of balance, social justice, and discourse surrounding the female form. Also, be sure to check her out on Twitter at @rjacksonjoseph and on her blog at https://rjjoseph.wordpress.com/

Until next time,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

No, Life Ain’t Fair…but I Can Make It So

by R.J. Joseph

“That’s not fair!”

Mama met my oft-repeated childhood refrain with, “Life ain’t fair,” in what became a household song she and I sung together.

My child’s heart became deeply wounded when faced with what I perceived to be injustice of any type and I never understood why Mama would think it was okay to just accept these things as given. It didn’t matter to me then whether the issue was a large one or a small one: the person who stole from another person and the one who got the big piece of cake while everyone else got a tiny one were both way, way out of line. While growing up helped me to better understand scale and nuance in these situations (as well as the realization that life is, indeed, unfair), the passage of time did nothing to quell my frustration at the existence of grave injustices and the thought that some people would just be allowed to walk through life unpunished for their deeds against others. For me, horror is partially a means to try to balance those scales and even tilt them in the opposite direction. Using this tool as a Black, female horror writer serves two main purposes towards this goal.

Female horror writers are more widely accepted into the genre now than in the recent past. So are Black horror writers. For horror writers existing at the intersection of Black and female, however, the road is still one harshly traveled, even if less so than previously. The remaining obstacles are ones other writers are rarely forced to consider. Some experiences I write about are determined to exist outside the horror genre when they’re clearly frightening to me and a large segment of the population who also happens to be Black and/or female. There’s often an unnamed “problem” with my writing that can’t be articulated but still prevents the writing from being published. My characters are unrelatable, even to other Black people, who don’t have any empathy for my characters’ circumstances because they aren’t their own. Yet, I continue to write. In refusing to shut up and stop telling stories, I’m working with other Black, female horror writers to try to enact balance to what’s offered within our beloved horror genre.

My stories, themselves, often center on the experiences of Black women. These lives don’t represent a monolith: there are endless experiences within the diaspora. They do represent women I know, as well as the woman I was, am, and will be. Their lives are filled with wrongdoing, fear, and victimhood. When I tell their stories, their lives become also marked with ways to gain justice for themselves. I love to write characters who have strength they know exists but don’t know how to harness. They may be afraid of themselves and what they’re capable of doing. I think about the unfairness of the “strong Black woman” stereotype and write about the women who aren’t really as strong as outsiders want to paint them, so they aren’t charged with helping these women. When society or their partners label them as monsters because they react to circumstances forced upon them, some of my characters lean into their monstrosity and create the lives they want for themselves. The scales of justice tilt whatever way I want in my writing, so the lives of those Black women take turns we might not always see in real life.

Horror is my vehicle towards creating the type of world where I want to live. I want to live in a world where every writer has the same opportunities to fail or succeed without prejudice throwing some out of the game before they get started. I want to live in a world where the experiences of Black women aren’t dismissed as invalid or unimportant. No, this life ain’t fair. But I’ll continue writing justice into existence as I continue to write myself and other Black women into existence. Then it will be so.

Author Bio:

Rhonda earned her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and currently works as an associate professor of English. She has had several stories published in various venues, including two anthologies of horror written by black female writers, the Stoker award finalist Sycorax’sDaughters and Black Magic Women, as well as in CampfireMacabre, a flash fiction anthology, Slashertorte: An Anthology of Cake Horror, and the Halloween issue of Southwest Review. Her academic essays have also appeared in applauded collections, such as the Stoker award finalists Uncovering Stranger Things: Essays on Eighties Nostalgia,Cynicism and Innocence in the Series and The Streaming of Hill House: Essays on the Haunting Netflix Series. Rhonda’s essay from The Streamingof Hill House, “The Beloved Haunting of Hill House: An Examination of Monstrous Motherhood” is also a Stoker award finalist for 2020.

Her most recent short story, “Witness Bearer”, can be found in the charity anthology, Twisted Anatomy: An Anthology of Body Horror.

Rhonda can be found lurking (and occasionally even peeking out) on social media:

Twitter: @rjacksonjoseph
Blog: https://rjjoseph.wordpress.com/
Email: horrorblackademic@gmail.com

Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/rjjoseph

Saturday, February 20, 2021

DRAWN TO THE DARK SIDE WITH CLAIRE C. HOLLAND

Hello Friends and Fiends--

Today in the Madhouse, I'm hanging out with Claire C. Holland and talking about what initially drew her to horror. Holland is a poet and writer from Philadelphia, currently living in Los Angeles. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found reading or binge-watching horror movies with her husband, Corey, and her Wheaten Terrier, Chief Brody. She is also a feminist, a tattoo lover, and interested in all forms of art strange and subversive. 

I Am Not Your Final Girl is her first book of poetry, and for those looking to read more about her process and intention with the book, you can zip over to a previous interview I did with her here. Needless to say, I'm a huge fan of Holland's work, and she's definitely one of my go-to people when it comes to talking horror films, so be sure to check out her collection and follow her on Twitter at @ClaireCWrites.

More soon,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Drawn to the Dark Side
by Claire C. Holland

I think horror was always a part of my identity, lurking somewhere deep in my bones, long before I ever realized it.

All things being relative, coming of age during the early aughts as a girl was no picnic. It’s only recently – in the last few months, really – that we’ve begun as a society to reckon with the unique brand of blatant misogyny imposed upon women, especially celebrities, during the first decade of the new millennium. Characterized by Perez Hilton, vicious tabloids, and stringent, sexist double standards, the early 2000s weren’t terribly different from the world we live in today; still, from the perspective of a post-MeToo America, it feels nonetheless shocking to look back on the cruelty piled upon women in the name of “entertainment.”

Forever a Britney fan, I watched the New York Times’ documentary Framing Britney last month with a box of tissues and my fists curled tight in anger. The documentary illustrates Britney Spears’ precipitous rise to ultra-fame as a teenager—what we’ll call the “Madonna” period, during which time she was asked invasive questions about her relationships and the status of her virginity, but was still considered a “good” girl—to her subsequent fall in the media, starting with her breakup with Justin Timberlake—the beginning of the “Britney is a slut” narrative adopted by most media outlets—and culminating in the night she shaved her head and threatened a paparazzo with an umbrella. That’s when people started calling her crazy, thus completing the usable lifecycle of a woman.


I promise I’m reaching a point.

That documentary brought up feelings I thought I’d long buried. Outrage and protectiveness, and also sadness for what could have been – not just for Britney, but for all of us girls. Where would we be, mentally and emotionally, if we weren’t raised by a savagely misogynistic society? I see the women around me thriving despite the world we were brought up in, a world of “catfights” and competition, a world where you could only be a Jessica (virgin, polite, smiles a lot) or a Christina (whore, ‘nough said), and you’re invisible by 30 anyway. A world we still live in, even if sexism is less barefaced.

But here’s a secret I’ve learned over the years: If you’re looking for an out, horror can be an escape route.

As a little kid, I delighted in watching Jaws and being the only one who wasn’t afraid or disgusted when Quint got bitten in half by the shark, spewing blood out of his mouth and gasping his last breaths. I felt brave, and it scratched a tomboy-esque itch of mine that, over the years, was otherwise mostly snuffed out by everything society was telling me I should be. Constantly praised for being “sweet” and quiet, and for never, ever causing a problem, I implicitly learned that I needed to be that way always.

But horror was always there, too, somewhere in the periphery, whispering in my ear and calling me over to the dark side. It started with the goth girls – Nancy from The Craft, Stokely in The Faculty, Ginger of Ginger Snaps. Oh, and Katie Holmes in Normal Behavior – that was a big one. These were the girls I secretly wanted to be or be friends with… or something. They scared and excited me with their belligerent, kohl-rimmed stares, their belly shirts and piercings, and their flagrant refusal to smile and make nice at the appropriate moments. They seemed self-assured and self-possessed in a way I could only dream of at the time. I couldn’t be them—how could I? it seemed impossible—but I could borrow pieces of them to bolster my own strength.

A smudge of dark eyeliner, or just a little bit of attitude. A skirt my mother wouldn’t approve of. Small things, maybe, but they gave me a small, secret confidence. They made me feel more like me.


I kept watching the movies and seeking out more like them. I quickly found that the women I related to weren’t on my TV screen very often, and they weren’t in most Oscar-winning movies. I began the slow, years-long process of realizing that all the complex, angry, sexy, twisted, multi-faceted women I saw myself in most weren’t in the mainstream, and more often than not, resided in the horror genre. These characters became a lifeline and a blueprint for me over the years, showing me the alternatives to living according to others’ expectations and inspiring me to misbehave.

Turns out they’ve always been there.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Tentacles Through the Darkness: The Connection of Horror With Laurel Hightower

Hello friends and fiends:

I've been thinking a lot about what horror means to me: why I'm drawn to it, why I write it, why I enjoy being scared, being uncomfortable. It's a loaded question/answer for sure, but as I sit here and meditate on it, especially during the throes of Women in Horror Month (WiHM), I'm realizing more and more that horror is my safe space, my happy place, and the place where I feel most at home with myself.

As such, I wanted to reach out to some fellow genre writers and see what their experience has been like finding and working within the horror community and so today in the Madhouse, I've invited fellow horror writer, Laurel Hightower, to chat with us about what horror means to her. 

More soon, 

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Tentacles Through the Darkness: The Connection of Horror

By Laurel Hightower

It has been said of writing that it’s a solitary endeavor. For many of us, that’s been a welcome truth – time alone in our heads and our imaginations are how we got here in the first place. Over the last year, that solitude has become enforced, and for most folks has involved increased responsibilities, stress, and little to no relief. I find myself craving connection more than ever, and that’s where horror fits into my world.

Ultimately, it’s about that connection. With other writers, as I read their deepest fears set down on the page, reaching within myself to find those same fears echoed. With the readers I’m lucky enough to have connected with – private messages, heartfelt reviews, and conversations that tell me what I’ve created has touched someone, made them feel seen or less alone. And with myself. It’s only been recent that I’ve delved into writing short fiction, and I’ve found it an effective vehicle to convey what I’m afraid of. I’ve surprised myself at the feelings I’ve uncovered by translating them to horrors on the page – the struggles of motherhood, body image, and the deep-seated and sometimes internalized threads of misogyny I fight against to be seen as a whole person, worthy of respect. The bleak landscape of alone that I’ve felt since long before the pandemic, that I’d pushed to the back of my memory with the excuse that such times were behind me.

That’s the thing about fear. We may think we’ve conquered it, but the scars are always waiting to remind us, to build dread in our bellies when we feel the hairs stand up on our arms and realize the monster isn’t done with us. But these days I can look to my right and my left, form a ragtag band of scrappy horror folks, and turn to fight. We’re each other’s cheerleaders and the ones who reach out and say it’s okay not to be okay. We give advice, we beta read, we provide each other platforms. We teach one another both formally and informally and provide inspiration. Reading horror poetry has inspired my own language and seeing how other writers tackle genre and style has made me stretch my own capabilities. Reading diversely has taught me how much more there is to the world, and to horror than my own little corner of it. All new fears, all new voices, and all new warriors to stand with.

I have no doubt I’ll always be an introvert, and that when things begin to settle out, I’ll be seeking that solitude, as I always have. But for now, and I hope always, horror is the dark and bloody road I follow to find my people, my purpose, and myself. 


Author Bio
:

Laurel Hightower grew up in Kentucky, attending college in California and Tennessee

before returning home to horse country, where she lives with her husband, son, and two rescue animals, Yattering the cat (named for the Clive Barker short story) and Ladybug the adorable mutt. She definitely wants to see a picture of your dog, and often bonds with complete strangers over animal stories. A lifetime reader, she would raid her parents’ bookshelves from an early age, resulting in a number of awkward conversations about things like, “what does getting laid mean?” She loves discovering new favorite authors and supporting the writing and reading community.

Laurel works as a paralegal in a mid-size firm, wrangling litigators by day and writing at night. A bourbon and beer girl, she's a fan of horror movies and true-life ghost stories. Whispers in the Dark is her first novel, though there are always more in the pipeline, and she loves researching anything horror related. She can usually be found working on the next project into the wee hours, sometimes as late as ten at night, as long as her toddler allows. Follow her on social media, even though she’s really bad at it, and she’ll follow you back. Plus you’ll be rewarded by pictures of cute dogs and kids.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

January '21 Madhouse Recap

Hi there, friends and fiends—

I hope this post finds everyone safe and well and that your new year has gotten off to a good start. I know I’ve mostly been hunkered down in my house and covered in blankets and pit bulls while the snow collects outside, and while my day job has definitely kept me busy, I’ve been making some adjustments to how I’m spending my free time lately as well as to how I’m feeding my creativity as well as my body.

I made the decision this year to not set a reading goal. I tend to get really crazy about goals that I set for myself, especially when I have something that’s tracking them, and so this year I decided that Goodreads was not going to control or shame me for my book intake. I set a goal of 1 book—and then naturally was immediately ridiculed on the site by tons of strangers—because I wanted to see what happened when I took the pressure off and just read for enjoyment, for escapism, for education, etc. In January alone, I ended up reading 11 books, which is absolutely insane for me, but it was honestly so relaxing and nourishing and it happened organically. I was also happy that I was able to make time in my schedule to edit an upcoming collection for a client, to take on a fiction mentee, as well as blurb an upcoming poetry collection from Clash Books.

Here’s a full list of what I read this January:

  • Fanged Dandelion by Eric LaRocca
  • Altars and Oubliettes by Angela Yuriko Smith
  • The Smallest of Bones by Holly Walrath
  • Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana Del Rey
  • Medusa’s Gaze and Vampire’s Bite: The Science of Monsters by Matt Kaplan
  • Great Goddesses: Life Lessons from Myths and Monsters by Nikita Gill
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Tender is the Flesh by Augstina Bazterrica
  • The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez
  • Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
  • The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos
On the teaching front, I got to pop into WCSU MFA's winter residency and do a Q&A with the students, which was an absolute blast! I'm also teaching three classes with them this semester: two in young adult fiction and one in dark fantasy. For those interested in the reading lists, please be sure to follow my Instagram (@swytovich and @thehauntedbookshelf) for updates, reviews, and cool bookstagram pictures. You can also follow me on Twitter at @swytovich. 



On the creative front, I made a promise to myself that I would focus more on my own artistic endeavors this year, so I’ve been dabbling with poetry here and there, and then working on revisions for a novelette and a short story. In addition to that, I’m looking forward to editing the HWA Poetry Showcase this year and to making some exciting announcements soon about who will be judging alongside me in addition to who will be taking my place as editor next year. And then you got to know that I have some cool stuff in the works with my pals over at Raw Dog Screaming Press, so I’ll be sure to share more about those secret projects when I can.

Outside of that, I’ve been getting back into painting (oils, acrylics, charcoal), and I’ve been transitioning into a vegetarian diet, so if you have fun books, tips, or recipes that you’d like to send my way, please feel free to comment below; I’m looking to formulate a book list about being/becoming vegetarian (nonfiction, memoir, etc), so I’ll also happily take those recommendations.

A couple other reminders about things that are out there or are on the horizon:

  • I wrote a letter/poem/essay to Edgar Allan Poe for his birthday on 1/10. You can read it via LitReactor under the title: Dear Edgar Allan Poe.
  • I reviewed Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh. You can find it on my website here.
  • I’ll also be teaching another installment of my Witch Lit course with LitReactor starting on March 9th, so if you’re looking to learn more about the history and archetype of the witch, in addition to creatively exploring him/her through short fiction and poems, please consider joining our coven! 
Until next month,
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Friday, January 15, 2021

Picking Fanged Dandelions with Eric Larocca

Hello and Happy Friday Friends and Fiends:

Today in the Madhouse, I'm excited to welcome poet and author Eric Larocca to our ranks as we chat about his poetry debut, Fanged Dandelion. Larocca describes his collection as follows: "a dark and deeply wounding portrait of a young queer man on the verge of splintering apart, ‘Fanged Dandelion’ is a nightmarish odyssey that delves into the bowels of the human mind - a frightening exploration of the caskets we build inside our heads…"

Fanged Dandelion was my first read of 2021 and not only was it beautifully written, but it explores the darker parts of human nature, of our battle with identity, all while bringing light to issues of oppression, repression, and mental health. I really loved it and I hope you folks will, too, so please consider picking up your copy today, and in the meantime, sit back, grab some tea, and walk with me through the gorgeous and nightmarish mind of Eric Larocca.

With barbs and thorns,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Discussing Fanged Dandelion

SMW: Tell us about your book. What gave you the idea to create this collection and what does the image of the fanged dandelion symbolize to you?

EL: Fanged Dandelion was essentially my response to the quarantine restrictions imposed by the United States due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I found myself burdened by anxiety and worry every day, and I knew that I needed to distract myself with a creative project simply because the craft of writing is usually so therapeutic for me. That being said, I was uncertain what exactly to write and I knew I wouldn’t find much solace in my typical prose form. That’s when my ever-supportive partner suggested I start writing down my thoughts and crafting short poems from what I’ve written. The collection is somewhat autobiographical. It’s essentially about a young queer man who is filled with inner turmoil because he’s being bombarded by hideously pernicious intrusive thoughts – something I’ve unfortunately experienced first-hand. The collection is about coming to terms with these horrible thoughts and determining whether or not they represent me as a human being. Fanged Dandelion is essentially an exploration of my identity as a queer man. The titular symbol of the fanged dandelion refers to how I view my mind – something ornate and delicate, yet capable of horrifying destruction.

SMW: One of my favorite things about horror (especially horror poetry) is that it allows us to champion and explore our shadow selves. The beginning of the poem “Fanged Dandelion” starts out with you saying: “I am a vile thing/ made of insect hair/and broken teeth.” Can you talk a little bit about how you explore the darker parts of yourself or human nature in your poetry? And do you find this approach to writing to be cathartic?

EL: Absolutely! Writing poetry (specifically horror poetry) has been a deeply cathartic experience for me. I honestly never anticipated sharing this collection with anyone other than my partner simply because the content I was exploring was so grim, so unapologetically bleak. I was afraid of sharing these pieces with anyone simply because I thought readers might judge me or think I was unhinged because some of the intrusive thoughts I explore in this body of work are literal thoughts I had once experienced. I’ve never shared this with anyone before, but I had to visit the emergency room one evening because I was so afraid of myself, so frightened of the thoughts I was experiencing. Thankfully, I’m in a much mentally healthier state now, but I’ve always been deeply familiar with the darker aspects of my identity. It’s an intimidating experience – sharing these gruesome actualities with readers. But I’m so delighted to see people responding and reacting to this body of work. It assures me that perhaps I’m not the monster I think I am.

SMW: This collection beautifully and viscerally explores body horror and puts it on display. In your poem “Venom in Bloom” you write: “he’d drink it all if he could, / turn as sickeningly green/as seawater/his mouth/a tourniquet/for venom in bloom.” What about body horror draws you to it and why do you think this subgenre continues to grow in popularity?

EL: I have always had a deep fascination with the subgenre of body horror. One of my very first plays, Parasite, was produced by a small independent theatre company in New York City and focused on the subject of body horror. I think I’ve been drawn to the genre simply because it’s so profoundly intimate. There’s a certain level of immediacy when analyzing a work of body horror. After all, we’re all human and we all possess complex human bodies – subject to entropy, disease, and decay. There’s nothing quite as horrifying as realizing that there’s something burrowing, feeding, stirring inside your body. In fact, my debut novella, Starving Ghosts in Every Thread, was a work of body horror and explores how grief and guilt can quite literally transform a person. I think the subgenre continues to grow in popularity simply because of its unadulterated honesty. I think audiences and readers are deeply unnerved by body horror because the genre is so immediate, and we can empathize with the characters undergoing the grotesque mutation.

SMW: Themes of repression, desire, and acceptance are filtered throughout the collection. We see character’s talking about secrets they’ve kept buried, hidden desires and fantasies they mediate on/with, and then we get to hear their own analysis of themselves, kind of like the doctor treating his own injuries. Can you speak to this idea of writing the wound and how horror can help us process trauma, identity, etc.

EL: Any time I sit down to work on a new project, I always consider the question: “what would upset me to write?” Moreover, “what would force me outside of my comfort zone?” Of course, there are certain traumas from my childhood that I’m not quite yet ready to tackle; however, the incentive for me is always to write from a wounded place. I’ve always been attracted to writing from the wellspring of trauma and suffering I have pumping inside me. Naturally, it’s of vital importance to monitor your mental health while working on such upsetting pieces; however, very often horror has the ability to help us better understand our trauma because it’s a safe arena in which we can confront our fears. For me, horror always has been a safe space where I can come to terms with my identity as a queer man and explore some of the traumas I’ve faced. I think that’s mainly due to the fact that all horror has to do with empathy in some way. We care about the characters in horror and when horrible things happen to them, it pains us. We suffer along with them.


SMW: There’s a violent spirit both to human nature and to the poems in this book. In your poem “Handle with Care” you end the piece by saying: “it’s my way of thanking her/for giving me things like/the teeth of the moon/something I never asked for.” First off, those are some of my favorite lines in the entire collection, but secondly, I’m wondering if you can speak to the lessons we learn about violence and rage in horror genre. What do you hope readers takeaway from this book, from these meditations within?

EL: Thank you so much for your kind words! Those were some of my partner’s favorite lines as well. There’s definitely an undercurrent of violence surging throughout the poems in Fanged Dandelion. I think violence and rage are integral aspects of the horror genre because horror is so heavily imbued with emotions. I suppose what I most desperately want to say with this collection is that these horrible intrusive thoughts do not define me. Your trauma does not define you. Your past does not indicate your future. More than anything, I hope people read this collection and recognize the fact that their pain, suffering, sadness will not last forever. I once lived as if I were stuck in a horror film. Everything petrified me. In fact, the world around me began to change. But it didn’t last forever and eventually I was free. I want that same thing for my readers – I want them to be free from what troubles them, what disturbs them. If you’re reading this, I truly wish that for you.

On Writing

SMW: How did you come to writing and who are some of your influences?

EL: I began telling stories at a very early age. I was inherently a very creative child. I would draw pictures and narrate the illustrations to my mother and father. Finally, when I began to learn to read and write, I immediately took to writing. Most of my early work were crude imitations of stories I had read or films I had seen. It wasn’t long before I took an interest in theater, specifically the work of Tennessee Williams. I was completely enchanted with the world he created on the stage. I devoured everything from his celebrated successes like The Glass Menagerie to his more obscure work Eccentricities of a Nightingale. From there, I soon developed a love of horror and devoted myself entirely to studying the genre. I was, of course, a dedicated reader of traditional writers like Bloch and Matheson; however, it wasn’t until I came across the work of Clive Barker that I realized how brutally fearless I could be while writing horror. Not to mention, I always felt remarkably empowered while reading Barker as he was an open and proud gay man.

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

EL: I’m very militant when it comes to my writing process. I’m somewhat superstitious and I prefer to keep in line with my routine. Usually I’ll get up in the morning, have a cup of tea, and check email or do little things around the house. Then, I’ll sit down, strap myself to the keyboard and I usually won’t give myself a break until I reach a certain word count goal. If I’m writing a novel, I typically commit to writing one chapter a day so that I don’t overwhelm myself.

SMW: What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

EL: I have a ton of books currently sitting in my TBR pile. The most noteworthy books I can immediately think of are Valancourt titles I had purchased at my favorite independent bookshop, The Green Hand in Portland, Maine. I had picked up a copy of In the Eyes of Mr. Fury by Philip Ridley, and I’m so excited to start reading. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mr. Ridley’s work, I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out his impressive catalog. He’s written works for the stage as well as film and literature. He wrote and directed one of my favorite films of all time, The Reflecting Skin starring Viggo Mortensen. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about In the Eyes of Mr. Fury, so I’m very eager to start reading soon. I also have a copy of Michael McDowell’s The Amulet that has been glaring at me from my nightstand for several weeks now.


SMW: What is next in store for your readers?

EL:  I have a bunch of exciting releases planned for 2021!

Readers can currently preorder my next book, A Bright Enchanted Suffering. The collection will be released March 30th, 2021. Readers can preorder their copy here: https://amzn.to/3hYDFQV.

I also recently announced on Twitter that I have partnered with Weirdpunk Books as they will be publishing my brand-new queer horror novella, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, in late Spring/early Summer of 2021. I am so ecstatic to be working with Sam Richard (Weirdpunk’s owner) and I suspect this will be a truly sensational release. We have a few exciting surprises we’re currently in the process of developing, but I can’t divulge anything yet, unfortunately. Although there’s no preorder link for Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, I encourage readers to follow me on Twitter (@ejlarocca) to stay up to date with my current projects. In the meantime, I sincerely encourage readers to check out Weirdpunk and order directly from their website: https://www.weirdpunkbooks.com/.

SMW: What advice do you have for writers working in poetry?

I’m not certain if I’m qualified to give advice to aspiring poets considering the fact that Fanged Dandelion was my first attempt at writing poetry and I feel as though I’m still learning and will always be learning no matter what; however, if pressed, I would simply encourage poets to write what upsets them. I would encourage them to write from the wound that never healed, to write from their suffering and their pain. Poetry is a deeply intimate and raw art form. Be vulnerable with your readers. They will respect you.

Blurbs:

What Cina Pelayo, author of poetry collections Poems of My Night and Into the Forest and All the Way Through, had to say about Fanged Dandelion:

"The beautiful and dark vivid visuals, dreamscapes and memories that Eric LaRocca paints masterfully in Fanged Dandelion offer a deep intensity. LaRocca’s compelling poetry demands our attention, to look at the lovely dandelion in our hands, its cheerful and bright petals, and to then submit as it sinks its sharp teeth into our skin. This is a collection by a fantastic and emerging voice in horror poetry, one that all of us should be reading."


Friday, January 8, 2021

The Revelation Behind the Poppet Cycle: A Guest Post from Donna J.W. Munro

Hello Friends and Fiends, 

Today in the Madhouse, I'm thrilled to be sharing space with author, Donna J. W. Munro. Donna and I go way back as we both went through the same MFA program at Seton Hill University, and in addition to being one of the kindest, most welcoming and sweet people I know, she's also dangerously brilliant and creative and one of the hardest workers in the business. 

I've learned a lot from her. 

Below is a post that Donna put together about her recent release from Omnium Gatherum: Revelation, Poppet Cycle Book 1. I hope you enjoy it and that you'll take some time to check out her book and everything else that the press has to offer. 

Best nightmares,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

"A Writer's Journey"

by Donna J.W. Munro

About ten years ago, I was talking about the limits of horror with one of my writing mentors, Mike Arnzen and he said, “A zombie romance... that’s the limit.” I took that as a challenge.

This isn’t a zombie romance.

It is a story about loving zombies.

I’ve been playing with the idea that grew into my dark, dystopia world for about ten years now. What if we could end all the terrible things that we do to each other by creating a class that we didn’t have to worry about hurting? Something not human. I should also say that I’m a history teacher, so I know that this idea isn’t new. There have always been people we’ve used as scapegoats or slaves or an underclass. One of the many things that terrified me about the American antebellum period in the south was that wealthy white children were often raised by enslaved women who acted as better mother figures than their own distant mothers. They loved these women and played with their children like they were siblings. But at some point in their maturation, they were expected to stop loving those people and suddenly think of them as property.

What a brainwashing, horrific society that was. The enslaved were absolutely robbed of their lives and freedoms by people they’d raised, while those owners broke the deepest connections they’d formed in their youths.

The last element of this book came from my reading of some formative books that need some reimagining. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn both examine the relationships between African American men with no power and the relationships they have with the white people in their lives. Both books frustrated me for so many reasons, but the willful downplay of the agency of the African American character and their humanity felt like just another example of this disconnect between the love between the characters and the disregard of their mistreatment.

So, my poppets were born.

Let me be clear. They aren’t African American. Poppets are the dead who have been raised to fill the roles and jobs that we distain or look down on. Servants, laborers, prostitutes. Why not? Poppets are just meat machines, revived and chipped, brain dead and without feeling.

Only they aren’t.

I really wanted to write the story of a privileged girl forced to deprogram herself because she couldn’t stop loving the poppet who’d raised her. I wanted her to be the perspective and I wanted her poppet, Thom, to be the hero.

I hope that’s what I’ve managed to do.

Blurbs:

“This stark, yet richly layered narrative, the first in Munro’s anticipated Poppet Cycle series, is a study of privilege, persecution, and the power of love. A chillingly perceptive dystopia cementing Munro as an author of note, Revelation is a novel worthy of its title.” — Lee Murray, three-time Bram Stoker Award nominee and author of Into the Ashes

The questions about the poppets - are they property or slaves? Do they have souls? - are ones the main character grabbles with throughout the book. This story also reminded me of Unwind by Neal Shusterman. Same creepy vibe, but completely different story. -Maria V. Snyder, New York Times bestselling author of the Sentinels of the Galaxy series.

Donna J. W. Munro is an explosive talent on the genre scene, and here she emerges with a surprisingly touching dark science-fiction YA novel set in a completely original dystopian world. She has crafted an amazing, original take on the zombie -- the “poppet” worker -- and a reimagined future world in a tale that is about so much more than just the living dead. It is a story of love, courage and liberation. And like the most inventive social stories of Ray Bradbury and the epic coming-of-age narratives of Stephen King, Munro’s novel will leave an indelible memory in your brain, and awaken you to the power of genre storytelling. Revelation launches an excellent new cycle that readers young and old alike will adore! -- Michael Arnzen, author of Grave Markings

Book Summary:

In a dark future, people harvest the dead to use as servants called poppets. 16 year-old Ellie must choose between a life of wealth and greatness or her love for her poppet, Thom. A boy from the wilds shows her that her family’s business trading in poppets isn’t as innocent as she was taught. Her choice will change the world.


Author Bio
:

Donna J. W. Munro’s pieces are published in Dark Moon Digest # 34, Flash Fiction Magazine, Astounding Outpost, Nothing’s Sacred Magazine IV and V, Corvid Queen, Hazard Yet Forward (2012), Enter the Apocalypse (2017), Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths II (2018), Terror Politico (2019), It Calls from the Forest (2020), Borderlands 7 (2020), Gray Sisters Vol 1(2020), Borderlands Vol 7 (2020), and others. Her upcoming novel, Revelations: Poppet Cycle 1, will be published by Omnium Gatherum in January 2021. Contact her at https://www.donnajwmunro.com or @DonnaJWMunro on Twitter.

Sign up for her newsletter via: tinyurl.com/yay2ryb4