Wednesday, September 1, 2021

August '21 Madhouse Recap

Hello friends and fiends—

August is always a hectic month, but we’re here, we’re moving, and school is back in session baby! I’ll be teaching seven classes during the fall semester…yes, you heard that correctly. Seven! They’ll be filled with horror, monsters, and all things that go bump in the night, and I’m beyond excited to dig into the material and have some great discussions with my students.

In my undergraduate short story class, I always start us off with a deep dive into Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work, and we’re tackling her masterpiece “The Yellow Wallpaper” to kick things off. We’re at the midterm point in my MFA class on editing via Southern New Hampshire, and then I started advising two thesis students at WCSU as well. Also on deck at WCSU is a class on horror and the mystery novel, and then a class on middle-grade literature and speculative poetry.

If you’re interested in the reading list for the horror/mystery course, we’ll be reading:

  • The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
  • Survive the Night by Riley Sager
  • If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier
  • The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
  • Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

If you’re interested in the reading list for the middle-grade course, we’ll be reading:

  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Omnibus by Alvin Schwarts
  • The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
  • Root Magic by Eden Royce
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I’m also teaching another section of my
Witch Lit class this December via LitReactor. It’s a mix of lecture, critical study, and creative writing, and we’ll talk about everything from the archetypal  characterization of the witch, to the sociological and political influences she’s had throughout history, to the embodiment of empowerment and female rage that we’re seeing both on and off-screen today. If you’re interested in the course, please check it out, and if you have any questions about it, I’m happy to speak to them directly.

In terms of what I’ve been reading this month, I’ve done a mix of class prep and pleasure reading:

  • The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
  • Survive the Night by Riley Sager
  • Here, The World Entire by Anwen Kya Hayward
  • The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
  • Strange Nests by Jessica McHugh
  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Outside of that, Dennis and I have really been enjoying the produce from our garden and we’ve made some pretty tasty meals with the tomatoes and peppers we’ve grown. We had a nice little harvest of Cubanelles, green peppers, and jalapenos, and honestly, Dennis makes the best guacamole around, so the baby and I have been pretty happy campers. I also whipped us up a Cubanelle and corn chowder that didn’t disappoint, and our mint harvest has been unbelievable, so I have bundles all throughout our house drying now so I can make a nice blend of peppermint tea to enjoy during my third trimester.

  • We’ve also been binging True Blood together so that’s been a nice comfort rewatch for me, and I even read the first Sookie Stackhouse book recently, so it’s been cool to revisit everything and do some compare/contrast. Some other stuff I’ve consumed media-wise:
  • I finished AHS Stories and felt blah about it overall. I liked the first two Murderhouse episodes, but after that, I was kind of tuned out.
  • I started AHS: Double Feature this past weekend and I’m intrigued by the first two episodes. There is some The Shining meets Salem’s Lot vibes going on there, so I’m hopeful. I also like the aesthetic and color scheme a lot.
  • I’ve been watching Nine Perfect Strangers and digging that a lot. It’s giving me major And-Then-There-Were-None feelings and I’m here for it!
  • I also completely binged The Chair, which I can’t recommend enough, especially to all my higher education friends. Totally a great watch as we all held back to school…and to campus this fall.
  • I also listened to a few podcast episodes here and there:


Other than that, I’ve been working on a bunch of different projects, some of which I just turned in to editors and others that are still under lock and key. If you want to check out my latest LitReactor piece, a letter to Charles Bukowski, you can check it out here. What I can say is that the HWA Poetry Showcase will be going through a final round of proofreading this week, and then it will be sent off to the good people of the HWA so it can be placed into layout to get all dolled up for its debut later on this year.

Needless to say, it’s been a busy month, but fall is when I start to really wake up creatively, so I’m always inspired and eager to be working on something while my favorite spooky ASMR channels play in the background. 

I hope you’re feeling inspired and excited, too.

Only 60 days until Halloween!

Lost in a pumpkin patch,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Friday, August 13, 2021

HWA Poetry Showcase, Vol 8: TOC Announcement

Good Morning, Poets and Poetry Lovers!

Today in the Madhouse, I'm thrilled to share with you the TOC and cover reveal for the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. 8. We had a ton of wonderfully dark and delicious submissions this year--close to 200!--which made the competition incredibly intense, so I want to take a moment to thank all of you who submitted to the anthology; it was, and remains, a true honor to read your work. I also want to send out a special thanks to Sara Tantlinger and Angela Yuriko Smith for all their hard work and insight as judges--as always, it was wonderful working with you ladies!--and to Robert Payne Cabeen, who not only provided us with a beautiful poem but who provided the cover art for the showcase this year. Bob's artwork is always absolutely stunning and I'm thrilled to showcase his talents in this respect, too.

I also wanted to highlight our top three poets this year, whose work will be featured in a separate spotlight courtesy of the HWA Poetry Blog: Ingrid L. Taylor, Lee Murray, and Brenda S. Tolian. Congratulations!

This year is particularly special for me as it will be my last year editing the showcase. After four wonderful, poetry-filled years, I am thankful to the HWA for trusting me with this project, to John Palisano for supporting and encouraging me, and to David E. Cowen for initially recommending me for this position. It has been a journey and a delight, and I've learned so much about the market, the genre, and our fantastic community along the way. Thank you for the scares, the nightmares, and the verses, folks. I hope to return the favor someday (insert evil laugh here).

Below is the TOC (although the order will be slightly adjusted upon print):

Artist/Poet Showcase:
  • Robert Payne Cabeen-- "Run Away"
Crystal Lake Poetry Contest Winner:

  • E.F. Schraeder-- "Cherry Blossoms (On Mourning a Distant Mother)"

Showcase TOC:

  1. Bright Tapestry by Carina Bissett
  2. On the Altar of a Beseeching Bell, Woebegone with Captivity by Saba Syed Razvi
  3. Necrow by Querus Abuttu
  4. Afterlife by Mercedes M. Yardley
  5. Girls Who Create Monsters by Jeannine Hall Gailey
  6. Lucky Charm by Cynthia Pelayo
  7. Revelation 9:15 by Benicio Isandro
  8. orchid moon by Lee Murray
  9. Note for My Sisters When I Am Gone by Patricia Lillie
  10. All of the Ghosts Are Gone by Chad Helder
  11. What Monster is This by Ingrid L. Taylor
  12. Low Tide by Sarah Read
  13. ritual for reuniting with my favorite demon by Kailey Tedesco
  14. Sugar by Jacqueline West
  15. Visiting Hours by Vince A. Liaguno
  16. On Darkest Night of Faerie Bright by Sumiko Saulson
  17. A Woman's Weapon by KC Grifant
  18. Epiales by Caitlin Marceau
  19. the umami of blood by Michael Arnzen
  20. Ferrywoman of Geoje-do by Patricia Flaherty Pagan
  21. Our Nightly Voyage by Amy Langevin
  22. The Serpents' Tale by Lisa Morton
  23. We Are Born of Blade and Blood by Naching T. Kassa
  24. Buried by Lindy Ryan
  25. Seedling by Beverly Lee
  26. Dead as Brains by Lorna D. Keach
  27. Shadecrest Palisades by Manny Blacksher
  28. Skinwalker Moon by Brenda S. Tolian
  29. The Song of the Wandering Zombie by Graham Masterton
  30. Teeth by Brad Christy
  31. The Silence of God by Jamal Hodge
  32. A Garden of Flesh by Deborah L. Davitt
  33. Moon by Corrine De Winter
  34. Mine Offenses by R.J. Joseph
  35. Restless Spiritualists by Amanda Hard
  36. Night Out at the Old Circus by Ian Hunter
  37. Carefully Tended Horrors and Gardens by Trisha J. Wooldridge
  38. Carrie by Emma J. Gibbon
  39. Vargas Visits the Monastery (a Vampyre speech) by Patricia Gomes
  40. Long Forgotten by EV Knight
  41. Win, Lose by Donna Lynch
  42. The Madness of Monsters by Sheldon Woodbury
  43. Your Eyes, Umber Dark, A Disease by Lonni Nadler
  44. Death Mask by Stephanie Ellis
  45. The To-Do List that Never Ends by Kerri-Leigh Grady
  46. To Necrophilia by Katherine Kerestman
  47. There Is No Difference Between an Eye and a Mouth by Donyae Coles
  48. How Date Nights Bring You Ever Closer: A Forbidden Haibun by Terrie Leigh Relf
  49. Waning Moon by Alicia Hilton
  50. In a Place Somewhere Inside by Ronald J. Murray

Sunday, August 1, 2021

July '21 Madhouse Recap

Hello friends and fiends—

I think I cursed myself by saying that June was a slow month because July was anything but! In addition to being noticeably pregnant now (and obsessively cleaning and preparing my house for the little one this winter), I’ve been juggling a lot of projects, writing deadlines, and getting ready for my upcoming courses this fall—not to mention I’m currently teaching a graduate course and taking a psychology course at Point Park.

On the writing/editing front, there’s a lot of exciting things happening:
  • I’m moving forward with getting the 8th volume of the HWA Poetry Showcase organized and edited now. I’ll be making a TOC announcement this month, so please be sure to keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, if you want to check out the earlier versions of the anthology, you can do so here.
  • My poem “The Returned” was published in Nightmare Magazine. You can read it here.
  • Jezzy Wolfe’s poetry collection Monstrum Poetica is available for preorder with Raw Dog Screaming Press, and Lucy Snyder’s forthcoming poetry collection Exposed Nerves just had its cover reveal, which you can view here. Keep a close eye out for a preorder announcement soon.
  • Point Park interviewed me about my Elgin award nomination for The Apocalyptic Mannequin and wrote up a lovely article for their website. You can read it here.

The end of my first trimester and the beginning of my second zapped my energy so I watched a lot of movies and tv shows:

  • I loved the Fear Street Trilogy. What an absolute blast! I was fortunate to win advance screenings of the films, so I was pretty much on cloud 13 (that’s the cloud the horror fans hang out on). This has a lot of rewatch potential in my eyes and I’m sure I’ll be hanging out in Shadyside again this fall.
  • Stoker – a great psychological flick.
  • Son – this was dark and intense, and I really enjoyed it
  • Two horror shorts: White Girl and Separation—If you’re a fan of Cronenberg, give Separation a go!
  • American Horror Stories—so far, I liked episodes 1 and 2, but 3 and 4 fell flat for me.
  • Mare of Easttown – truly amazing. I wish I would have watched this sooner with everyone else.
  • Black Widow—Loved this, too. The commentary on human trafficking coupled with the pro-choice undertones and female awakening/uprising was really inspiring. I was happy to see Marvel go there.  
  • Loki—Now, I love Loki and I enjoyed the series, but I’m jaded about this. Oh well.

I’m currently on an audiobook kick, so I haven’t been listening to as many podcasts lately, but I managed to squeeze in a few episodes this month that I really enjoyed:

When it comes to what I’ve been reading:

  • Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon
  • Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca
  • Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
  • Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich
  • Shirley: A Novel by Susan Scarf Merrell
  • The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
  • Here, the World Entire by Anwen Kya Hayward

I also managed to sneak in a couple short stories by Amparo Davila and I’m very much enjoying her work! If you haven’t checked out her collection The Houseguest and Other Stories, be sure to add it to your TBR list.

August is going to be intense as I head back to school, ease into a new routine, and type “The End” on a few lingering projects. With that said, I was happy that I got to go see a movie in theatres last month (I didn’t realize quite how much I really missed doing that), and Dennis and I went to a fantastic horror-themed drag show that was truly amazing and something I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Until next time, I’m hoping that everyone stays safe and healthy and sane, and I really hope we can all see each other soon, so please take care of yourselves and your families and know that Halloween is only 91 days away!

Stay spooky,

Stephanie

Friday, July 2, 2021

June '21 Madhouse Recap

Hello Friends and Fiends!

It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the halfway mark of 2021. This month was a little—okay, a lot—slower for me, and honestly, I’m okay with that. I needed a bit of a break, so I took one, which is something I’m not feeling guilty about these days. With that said, I did finish up taking an 8-week philosophy course this month (which I really loved!) and I’m in the midst of wrapping up a graduate class as we speak, so don’t get the wrong idea. I’m still a maniac even when I’m resting.

On the horror front, I didn’t watch too many new movies this time around, although I did catch Caveat and The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do it. Caveat was decent, although it left me wanting. I didn’t like The Conjuring at all. Something that I did enjoy, however, was a rewatch of Jennifer’s Body and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. Those ones always make me smile.

On the book front, I read all over the place again:

  • Root Magic by Eden Royce
  • Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across by Mary Lambert
  • Firstborn by Louise Gluck
  • Descending Figure by Louise Gluck
  • The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

I also started reading/re-reading Shirley Jackson’s collection Dark Tales, and while there are a few in there I’ve read before, most of them are new to me. I’m completely blown away by these stories, and now I’m starting to question what my favorite is of hers. Right now, I’d probably have to go with “What A Thought” because I’m still in shock at how deliciously evil and violent that story is. *Sigh* Jackson is my comfort read so I’ve been spending a lot of time with her this month, and I’m also in the middle of Susan Scarf Merrell’s book Shirley so you can clearly see where my head is at lately.


Some other fun things that happened this month:

  • I got to sit on a wonderful panel moderated by Michelle R. Lane on women in horror. I chatted with Linda Addison, Lee Murray, Lucy Snyder, and Lisa Morton about a bunch of topics, and in addition to feeling positively energized afterward, I also loved that I got to support and be a part of SHU’s IYWM retreat.
  • I wrote an article for LitReactor where I discussed imposter syndrome, writer’s block, and some rituals I use for tackling the blank page. You can read it here.
  • I found out my poetry collection The Apocalyptic Mannequin is a nominee for the Elgin Award.
  • I was happy to interview Holly Lyn Walrath about her recent poetry release from Clash Books: The Smallest of Bones. You can read the full transcript here.
  • I wrote an article celebrating some of my favorite queer poetry collections for my blog, and you can read it (as well as last year’s pride showcase) here.
  • I held a quiet solstice/Midsummer celebration this year with a nice fire under the full moon and a beautiful simmer pot. I’ve been enjoying our little garden a lot this year, and I was so excited that I was able to use the roses and mint we grew in some of my spell work this month. It’s the little things!

Looking to the future, I’m eager to catch up on some writing projects this month and finish up a few books I’m in the middle of. As an update for the HWA Poetry Showcase, we’re in the middle of judging the submissions now and I’m looking to have all acceptances/rejections out by the end of the month.

Until then, I’ll be locked up in my house reading and writing while covered in puppies and the madness of an endless TBR pile. I hope you are all doing well and taking care of yourselves, especially as the world starts to reopen and stretch its arms again. I'm slowly making my way out here and there, so hopefully, I'll even get to see some of you soon!

Best,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Celebrating Queer Poetry: A Few Of My Favorite Recent Reads

Hello friends and fiends--

Today in the Madhouse, I want to talk about some of my favorite contemporary queer poets. I also want to invite you to check out my Madhouse Pride Showcase from last year where writers such as Eric Crumrine, Cynthia Pelayo, Cassie Daley, and Hailey Piper stopped by to chat about their work, their favorite books, and some must-read authors. You can check out their visits here:

While the poets I’m going to talk about today aren’t inherently horror poets, their work is raw, vulnerable, and filled with both a ferocity and gentleness that I’ve come to love and admire. In fact, in a recent essay I wrote for LitReactor, I talked about this imaginary gap between genre and literary work and how as writers of speculative fiction, we can learn a lot from reading outside of our respective genres in order to find horror in unsuspecting places. If you’re interested in reading that article, you can do so here.    

First up is Andrea Gibson. I think the first time I picked up their work was at AWP. I was hanging out at the Write Bloody table when I noticed a book titled The Madness Vase. The cover was so delightfully weird and vibrant, and you know I’m a sucker for anything with “mad” in the title, so this was an easy buy for me. After I read it, I knew that I needed more from Gibson, so I went and picked up Lord of the Butterflies (one of my favorite collections). Their work is so honest, and it always hits me in a way that feels like a homecoming, or like I’m visiting a friend I haven’t seen in years. I’ve watched some of their performances on Button Poetry, too, and I’m always left breathless.  Some of my favorite lines are:

  • “Though I don’t remember, I remember my birth/ was my first yes. Thought I was pushed, yes. / Though there was screaming, yes. Though the light hurt, yes.”
  • “to put on/ your best outfit/ and feel/ like you’re dressing/ a wound.”
  • “Truth doesn’t fly that kind of kite. / Trust knows everybody’s dark side/ is daytime somewhere.”
  • “Love, I smashed my glass slipper/ to build a stained-glass window/ for every wall inside my chest.”
  • “We wear our traumas/ the way the guillotine/ wears gravity. / Our lovers’ necks/are so soft.”

Next on our list is Danez Smith. I’m a new reader of Smith’s poems, and I actually picked them up based on a student recommendation not too long ago. My students were shocked I hadn’t read them yet, and now that I’ve finally gone through some of their work, I wish I had found them earlier, too. The first book I picked up was Homie, which is this stunning collection about friendship, bonds, relationships, and the ways we connect with others to make it through life. I then read Don’t Call Us Dead and honestly, I had to pick my jaw up off the ground more times than one. The writing in this collection was much more intense than in Homie (in my opinion, at least) and I appreciated the gut punches throughout the book. These poems were violent, haunted little beasts and cries and protests, and yet they were also vulnerable, sad, and heartbreaking. Some of my favorite lines from Smith are:

  • “i’ll plant a garden on top/ where your hurt stopped.”
  • “dead is the safest i’ve ever been. / i’ve never been so alive.”
  • “…i can’t stand your ground. / i’m sick of calling your recklessness the law. each night, i count my brothers. & in the/ morning, when some do not survive to be counted, i count the holes they leave.”

Rachel Wiley immediately grabbed my attention after seeing her do a performance on Instagram. This one, in fact. It wasn’t long after seeing it that I read her collection Nothing is Okay and starting teaching some of her poems in my undergraduate classes. There are so many reasons why I love her work, but her confidence is certainly high up on that list. She is a force of nature and I love how her words command my undivided attention. I also feel amped up after listening to her, like I could go out and conquer the world (including the blank page). Her poetry explores queerness, space, feminism, and the joys of dating (sarcasm, because dating is awful) all while tearing down the patriarchy. She has another collection out, too,—one that I still need to read---titled Fat Girl Finishing School. Some of my favorite lines from her work include:

  • “…I don’t know, maybe this is why I love/the way I do/ with teeth and swallow and song and snarl/ and water and sparkle and consequence”
  • “Trust the bone next cradling/ your pink precious lungs to mother the breath/ back home to you”
  • “I have clawed my way to okay and it will/just have to do for now.”
  • “What you actually mean when you say that I Glorify Obesity/ is Hallelujah.”
  • “Perhaps I should submit a butcher’s diagram of all the things/they/might find in my fat.”

A recent read of mine was Bestiary by Donika Kelly. Her collection was a beautiful meditation on the human and the inhuman, the monster and the beast. There are these love poems scattered throughout where Kelly writes to chimera, centaurs, satyr, mermaids, and werewolves, and they read as these subtle flirtations, these quiet yet wild adorations. She explores love and abandonment, the disillusionment with reality, how we are born screaming yet beg to be returned to nature, to push our hands into the dirt. I loved the connection to mythology and body in her work, how everything became cyclic, enchanted. Like a glorious fairy tale, it was hard to discern where the magic ended and the nightmare began, and I loved her work all the more for it. Some of my favorite lines from her work include:

  • “When he opens her chest, separates the flat skin/ of one breast from the other, breaks the hinge of ribs, / and begins, slowly, to evacuate her organs, she is silent.”
  • “What clamor/ we made in the birthing. What hiss and rumble/ at the splitting, at the horns and beard, / at the glottal bleat. What bridges our back.”
  • “What the tongue wants. / Supplication and the burn/ of crystals expanding. / To be, always, a waxing, / a waning, and, in waxing/ again, not ever the same.”
  • “Folaed, fully grown, from my mother’s neck, / her severed head, the silenced snakes. Call this/ freedom.”
  • “I am a forest, / a field. I crumble and shift. I wake, / my breath deep inside the earth.”

Lastly, I want to talk about Mary Lambert’s collection Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across. This book came to me by way of a Goodreads recommendation, and I actually just finished this book earlier in the month. This was an intense read for me as she writes from a place of trauma regarding incest, rape, body shaming, queerness, and mental health. Some of these poems hit quite hard for me, and there was a particular meditation of hers about a bathtub that I think will remain a part of me forever. Truthfully though, I say that as the highest form of praise because I want to read poetry that rips me apart, allows me to heal, and assures me that I’m not alone, and her work here specifically really helped me do that on more than one occasion. Some of my favorite lines from her work include:

  • “We loved each other like an ongoing apology.”
  • My body is a crater/ in the living room, and you are a perfect/ moon, and I am going to ruin you.”
  • “When I was young and sad and/ hungry I learned how to guillotine a/ tulip like you with my eyes closed.”
  • “You will not remember these/moments, these death maneuvers, /these horror orchids.”
  • “I don’t know how much of me/is just space for you.”
  • “your lips are a city and I am a choir of yes.”
  • “we are all flowers with our heads off/ No one gave us a burial.”

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Smallest of Bones: A Guest Interview with Holly Lyn Walrath

Hello friends and fiends--

How are we hanging in there during this heat? I know my goth self can't be out in the sun, so I've mostly been camped out in my office with the AC on full blast thinking cool, wintery thoughts and drinking water like I'm a beached siren. Heat exhaustion aside though, something else that I've been doing lately is happily drowning in dark, beautiful poetry. In fact, last month, I exclusively read poetry and I'm here today to share with you one of my favorite reads of the year so far: The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walrath.

This gorgeous collection is currently available for preorder via Clash Books, and I was lucky enough to read an earlier copy of the book. Here's what I had to say about it: “A striking meditation on the body and its ghosts, this collection is a blossoming of bones and the trauma we hold inside, a gorgeous homage to the fever dreams and nightmares we collect, break, and survive with each and every day.”

To chat more about her collection, I have Holly here with me in The Madhouse today. I hope you'll enjoy the following interview and consider picking up a copy of her collection and adding her words to your TBR pile. 

Yours, 

Stephanie M. Wytovich

SMW: Tell us about your book. What gave you the idea to create this collection and when did the idea of bones start to speak to you?

HLW: My poetry has always been a place where I work out issues in my head. Essentially, I’ve often felt trapped in my own body and trapped by society’s expectations for that body. Even when you eschew gender, society still places you in a label based on how you look, and that perception goes bone-deep. While I identify as a woman, my awareness of what that means has changed over the years. Most of the poems in the book are short, concentrated meditations on relationships, the body, and self-image. Something about the conciseness of the poems made it easier for me to talk about difficult topics.


SMW: Can you give us an insight into your writing process and how you structured this collection?

HLW: In 2018 a series of science articles got attention in the news around the topics of neurosexism and biological determination—fancy words that explain the belief that women and men are inherently different, down to even differences in their brains and as deep as their bones. I started reading old anatomy books and studying the so-called biological differences in the bones of men and women, which lead to the “spine” of The Smallest of Bones—poems titled after different bones in the body and how those bones differ between the sexes, according to science and pseudoscience. It’s not to say that those biological differences don’t exist, but to ask whether how we interpret them needs re-examining.

SMW: One of my favorite things about horror (especially horror poetry) is that is allows us to champion and explore our shadow selves. One image that really stood out to me in the book contained the following lines: “I sink myself in the river at dawn/ your words are the stones/ in my pockets.” 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?

HLW: I’m glad you noted this line because it references the death of Virginia Woolf, who committed suicide by weighing her pockets with stones and wading out into the River Ouse near her home in Sussex. I’ve always been drawn to women writers who committed suicide, like Sylvia Plath, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Anne Sexton. These women were seen as great forebearers for the feminist writing movement, but they also showcase how deeply troubled confessional modes of writing can be. I think for women writers, it’s difficult to find peace in writing. We’re always wresting our creative selves away from some other responsibility. The shadow self becomes the writer self. Writing about the dark things can be cathartic, but it can also be a great weight to bear.

SMW: There are a lot of nods to body horror within the collection. Can you speak to what draws you to that subgenre, and talk a little bit about how you worked to evoke that type of imagery within your poetry?

HLW: Body horror has always been one of my favorite subgenres of horror. One of my favorite horror movies as a kid was The Fly (1986). I remember watching it and being unable to look away. For me, the genre is inextricably tied to feminism. Women’s bodies go through terrifying transformations. There’s blood and tearing, and assault, and violence. When the movie Teeth (2008) came out, I was stoked to see a movie about the weird toxicity our society projects onto normal sexuality. As a Baptist church kid, I grew up being taught that sex and reproduction are taboo. It ain’t polite, but it makes good horror.

SMW: I noticed that there was religious imagery throughout prayers, burnings, sacrifice references to various iconography and afterlives (ghosts, demons, etc). Was this something that you intentionally planned to incorporate throughout, or was this more organic to other themes in the book that dealt with topics like trauma, sickness, etc.?

HLW: I think my work is always drawing on some kind of religious imagery just because I grew up Baptist, going to church and Sunday School. I was baptized twice—that’s how Baptist I was. It’s not intentional, but it always seems to make its way in. The church has a lot of weird baggage and was a source of trauma for me growing up. I remember our church used to do stigmata reenactments for youth group—putting ink on our hands and foreheads, having us wear fake crowns of thorns—to make us “feel” what Christ went through at his crucifixion. I must have been about 12 or 13. That kind of shit stays with you. Ghosts and demons are a natural progression from discussions of the body—either in non-corporeal or in possessed form—as a focus point for emotions like grief or lust. In some ways, the spooks feel safer to me than the real world. At least I know what to expect from them.

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

HLW: I started writing poems in high school at the height of my teen angst stage. Poetry was always a release and a safe place for me to work out my emotions. It wasn’t until I could become a freelancer that I actually had time to write more. I was always interested in writers who received acclaim after their deaths—like Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville (still not as well known for his poems). I have too many influences to name them all, but I love the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, Fernando Pessoa, Walt Whitman, Amelia Grey, Audre Lorde, Rita Dove, Nnedi Okorafor, and Ken Liu.

SMW: What books are sitting in your TBR pile?

HLW: Exhalation by Ted Chiang, I'm Waiting for You by Bo-Young Kim, Dearly by Margaret Atwood, The Hidden Girl by Ken Liu

SMW: What is next in store for your readers?

HLW: I’m currently working on a book of queer poems set in the 90s and drawing on pop culture like The Craft, Buffy, My So-Called Life, Dirty Dancing, and Chasing Amy. I’m sure it will be just as weird, queer, and dear as people are used to reading from me. I’m also hoping to start up a new Instapoetry series on serial killers.

SMW: What’s one poetry stereotype or cliché that actually fits you perfectly?

HLW: “Poets like flowers and the moon” – Okay, but flowers and the moon are beautiful, people. More moon-flower poems, please. I’ll stop writing about peonies when I’m dead.

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

HLW: I think the best writing advice is to just do what you love. Love what you write, write what you love. The biggest advocate for your work is you. It’s hard when you’re writing something that’s personal, and I get that, but no one else is going to as passionate about your work as you are. If you’re doing the thing because you love it, then nothing can hold you back.

BIO:

Holly Lyn Walrath’s poetry and short fiction appears in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Liminality, and Analog. She is the author of Glimmerglass Girl (Finishing Line Press, 2018), winner of the Elgin Award for best speculative chapbook, Numinose Lapidi, a chapbook in Italian (Kipple Press, 2020), and The Smallest of Bones (CLASH Books, September 2021). She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. You can find her canoeing the bayou in Houston, Texas, on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath, or at www.hlwalrath.com.

Blurbs:

“Between stars and shards of bone, Holly Lyn Walrath invites the reader to build a skeleton with her words, to get lost between the dark spaces of curved ribs. The Smallest of Bones offers so much within each poem -- here, we wander beneath the moon and speak with ghosts; we transform under the night sky and haunt our own minds as the words encourage us to strip back the skin and expose rawness and vulnerability. A beautiful collection!”--Sara Tantlinger, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Devil’s Dreamland

"A striking meditation on the body and its ghosts, this collection is a blossoming of bones and the trauma we hold inside, a gorgeous homage to the fever dreams and nightmares we collect, break, and survive with each and every day."--Stephanie M. Wytovich, author of The Apocalyptic Mannequin

In “the smallest of bones”, blood, bones, skin, and flesh are placed on the sacrificial altar as an offering to the gods, beautifully laid out to represent life’s journey: love, identity, volition, pain, destruction, and finally, enlightenment.

Raw, visceral, and powerful, each word in Walrath’s poems is selected with the care of a surgeon for the perfect incision. It is a journey we all walk and this is its handbook. —Christina Sng, Bram Stoker award winning author of A Collection of Nightmares


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

May '21 Madhouse Recap

Hello friends and fiends—

Can you folks believe it’s already June? It just doesn’t seem possible to me even with May being such a crazy month. Reminder to self: remember to breathe and sleep this month. Maybe even sneak some yoga in here and there? I finished off the Spring semester and dove right into summer. I’ll be taking two eight-week classes this time around in philosophy and psychology. Seems like a good idea to stay sharp, learn some new tricks, and keep me on my toes when it comes time to write new lectures and reinvent old ones. I’m also teaching a graduate class right now in speculative fiction and we’re having a blast so far. A few of the books we're tackling together are The Changeling by Victor LaValle, Circe by Madeline Miller, Recursion by Blake Crouch, and The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin—all great readings, some old friends, some new. 

As to publications this month, I’m thrilled to be joining the TOC for Shadow Atlas, an anthology focusing on dark landscapes in the Americas edited by Carina Bissett, Hillary Dodge, and Joshua Viola. My poem “Blood, Like Chocolate” will focus on invoking the chocolate-brewing witches of Latin America. I also published an essay with LitReactor about finding horror in unsuspecting places titled “When the Answer Isn’t Always Edgar Allan Poe” and sat down to chat with Books in the Freezer podcast about all things witch and lit! One of the books I talked about in the episode is The Nightgown and Other Poems by Taisia Kitaiskaia, and you can read my review for it here.

On the horror front, I watched Willy’s Wonderland, Honeydew, Wickerman, American Mary (which was a first for me!), finished watching both seasons of Creepshow, and I actually started off the month by throwing my dad a Sasquatch-themed 60th birthday party, so yeah, it’s been a wild couple of weeks. I also took R.L. Stine’s Masterclass, which I absolutely loved. I laughed a lot, learned a bunch, and definitely rewatched some of my favorite Goosebumps episodes in between lectures.

My reading for the month was filled with tons of poetry and it looked like this:
  • 45 Mercy Street by Anne Sexton
  • Words for Dr. Y by Anne Sexton
  • Deluge by Leila Chatti
  • Ebb by Leila Chatti
  • Sixty Poems by Charles Simic
  • Nothing is Okay by Rachel Wiley
  • Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
  • Bestiary by Donika Kelly
  • Ask Baba Yaga: Poetic Remedies for Troubled Times by Taisia Kitaiskaia
I also listened to a good number of podcast episodes this month:June will be filled with tons of philosophy homework and even more poetry as we get the judging process moving with the HWA Poetry Showcase. A big thank you to everyone who submitted something, and a huge thank you to my judges Sara Tantlinger and Angela Yuriko Smith as we deep dive into all the delicious spookiness that awaits us. Looking forward, I’m also planning on posting a recommended poetry reading list for Pride Month where I’ll talk about queer poetry and some of my favorite poets, so keep a lookout for that, too.

Until next time! 

Spread love & stay weird,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

August '21 Madhouse Recap

Hello friends and fiends— August is always a hectic month, but we’re here, we’re moving, and school is back in session baby! I’ll be teachin...