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

Saturday, May 1, 2021

April '21 Madhouse Recap

Hello Friends and Fiends—

April was a somewhat difficult month for me. It started off on a productive note. I finished up my second run of teaching Witch Lit through LitReactor and had an absolutely wonderful time. I was also getting a lot of writing and reading done, diving into some spring cleaning (which I oddly like?) and just generally feeling better about myself and my relationship with my mind and body. I’ve been ordering from Daily Harvest recently, and I’m just completely obsessed with them. Their smoothies are to die for and it’s helping to keep me away from caffeine all day and instead hit me with some natural energy in the morning. I’ve also been specifically working with violets and jasmine this month, and it’s been a wild and informative journey. I appreciate the romance of jasmine and I usually work with her at night when the moon is out, and then violet is helping me find this stillness and calmness within myself that allows me to appreciate my aloneness. This was all better informed by a zoom lecture I listened in on with Robin Rose Bennett—who is one of my favorite herbalists--where she talked a lot about green witch wisdom and natural healing. Inspired by the talk, I even went outside yesterday morning to collect some dandelions from my front yard to keep on my desk.

Today is Beltane, as some of you might know, and if the rain holds off, I’m hoping to have a bonfire later on to celebrate, but if not, I’ll likely burn some herbs and flowers in my grandmother’s cauldron and light some green candles. I also found a recipe for rhubarb lemonade that I think I might try to make this afternoon.

Last night, however, was Walpurgisnacht, also known as Witches Night or Spring Halloween. Considering we had a death in the family this month—rest well, Uncle Doug--I approached my evening similar to how I approach Samhain in October. I made a small family altar, left offerings, lit candles, and talked to my relatives. A ritual I really love to do during times of reflection and loss is to write a letter to the recently deceased and light it on fire under the moon. I did this with my family last year during the dumb supper I hosted, and we all felt it was really beautiful and cathartic. My dad also took me to the cemetery this month and showed me where a lot of my relatives are buried. I made grave bouquets and took up rose petals to place/sprinkle over the earth as I said a prayer and/or introduced myself to family I had yet to meet. I was also happy that I got to see my grandfather’s grave for the first time since he passed. I swear I can still hear him laughing sometimes.



April did have its celebratory moments though, too. We opened the HWA Poetry Showcase for submissions. More details on that and how to submit can be found here. I was also welcomed into the TOC to two wonderful upcoming anthologies. My poem “The Crow’s Nest” will be published in Were Tales: A Shapeshifter Anthology through Brigids Gate Press and then my poem “Snakeskin” will be included in Under Her Skin through Black Spot Books. I had such a blast writing these pieces, so this was really exciting news to hear. I have some other stuff in the works that I can hopefully share soon, but trust that I still have some tricks up my sleeves for this year.

On the movie front, I've just been blowing through horror films like you would not believe. If you're interested in what I'm watching, you can always follow me on Twitter @ Swytovich where I go into a bit more detail on things, but wow. I actually watched Society and The Devils for the first time last month and I still find myself picking up my jaw from time to time. Plus, I don't think I'll ever be able to casually say the word "butthead" ever again. 

Like ever again.

I also listened to this great podcast episode from Faculty of Horror about Twilight--yes you read that correctly--and honestly, I think it's really worth listening to as horror fans because there's just so much there that needs to be unpacked and mediated on and I'm personally really thankful that this episode exists because my relationship to feminism is something that is always evolving--especially as a white woman--and there's always just more work to do to be better and more inclusive and I truly learned a lot by listening to this.

On the reading side of things, here was where my reading took me:

  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang à This proved to be a book that will likely stay with me for quite some time. I had some really visceral reactions to it, but on the whole, I think it was a great piece of body horror.
  • White Oleander by Janet Finch à A bewitching and deeply poetic read. I read this alongside one of my grad students and we talked about how witchcraft is subtly pressed between the pages.
    • If you want to read more about my thoughts on the book, you can check out my review here.
  • Power of the Witch: The Earth, the Moon, and the Magical Path to Enlightenment by Laurie Cabot
  • Live or Die by Anne Sexton à  This was the last poetry collection I needed to read in order to finish all of Sexton’s published work. I have such a deeply complicated relationship with her as a poet, but her work intensely affects me. I’ve started to move through her posthumous work now and am currently reading 45 Mercy Street.
  • Homie by Danez Smithà This was my first collection by Smith, and I’ve already ordered another collection: Don’t Call Us Dead. I appreciate their voice and I’m looking forward to reading more work from them.
  • Today Means Amen by Sierra DeMulder à This was my first collection by DeMulder and it certainly won’t be my last. Her poem "Thirteen Stanzas for Sarah Winchester Whom I Think I Understand" might very well be one of my favorite pieces of poetry.
  • The Cuckoo Girls by Patricia Lillieà If you haven’t read this collection yet, I truly can’t recommend it enough. Truly gorgeous, haunting work. Lillie is brilliant and the horror genre is lucky to have her.

As we move into May, I have lots of stuff on deck. We’ll be celebrating my father’s 60th birthday this weekend (happy early birthday, dad!!), and we have lots of crazy fun stuff planned for that. I also start teaching a speculative fiction class for SNHU in a few weeks as well as start taking some classes of my own. For instance, I’ll be taking a philosophy course with PPU here soon, and I’m very much looking forward to that on top of some other spooky things I have coming up.

Until then, stay scary and be weird!

Stephanie M Wytovich 

Friday, April 2, 2021

March '21 Madhouse Recap

Hello and Good Afternoon, Friends and Fiends!

March is one of my favorite months and I’m sure the fact that my birthday is tucked inside there has nothing whatsoever to do with that (chuckles manically). Aries energy aside, I rang in 32 this year covered in dogs with violets in the air, and honestly, I’m feeling pretty good these days, which is quite an accomplishment because I wrote about creative burnout a few years back and it was something that I was really struggling with. I had to learn to take breaks, to be okay with not writing constantly, and to accept that I don’t always need to be working to be valid (yes, this is easier said than done, and yes, I still struggle with this concept).

I spent a lot of March relaxing. I built a truly insane number of puzzles (and I’m working on an impossibly cool Edward Gorey one now), listened to some of my favorite vinyl by candlelight, caught up on some podcast episodes, watched ShookLuckyTheVigil and Promising Young Woman, and checked out the Frida Kahlo: an Intimate Portrait photography exhibit at the Frick. I also decked out my house in fresh flowers (daisies, sunflowers, roses, daffodils) and celebrated Ostara with my parents, which was beautiful. I also did a ritual with my Rose of Jericho where we watched it uncurl and bloom as a meditative exercise to welcome rebirth. We then all wrote down what we wanted to nurture, grow, and invite into our lives this year, and then we burned bay leaves in my grandmother’s cauldron. What was especially cool is right when my dad lit the fire, my grandma actually called his cell to check-in and tell us she loves us.

On the book side of things, I read all over the place this month:

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Dolly by Susan Hill
  • Strange Academy, Vol. 1 by Skottie Young
  • How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
  • I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
  • Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
  • The Nightgown and Other Poems by Taisia Kitaiskaia

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m teaching two young adult classes currently and I’m having just the best time diving into the genre with my mentees. We’ve been reading some incredible books this semester and the discussions have been really thought-provoking and deep, so a lot of my time and energy has been put into working outside the horror genre this month, but you know I’m never too far away from my home…

In fact, I’m thankful to be teaching the second round of Witch Lit with LitReactor this month—which is always a blast!—and on the poetry front, I published an article with them titled: The Sound of Absence: Utilizing White Space in Poetry. If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s good thought fodder for poets and fiction writers alike!

I also hosted two fabulous ladies in The Madhouse in March: EV Knight and Meghan Arcuri. We chatted about 80s cover art, imposter syndrome, writing outside our comfort zone, and our horror origins. You can check out what they had to say below:

I'm currently working on a handful of projects, and I got great news a few days ago that I'm looking forward to sharing with you all soon. But until then, submissions for the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol 8. are currently open and I encourage you all to submit and write and play with the form. If you want to read the full announcement post, you can do so here, and then the guidelines can be found here.

Until next time
Stephanie M. Wytovich

Thursday, April 1, 2021

HWA POETRY SHOWCASE, VOL 8 MEET AND GREET

Hello and Good Morning, Friends and Fiends:

As most of you know, April is #NationalPoetry Month, and the Horror Writers Association (HWA) is opening submissions for the eighth installment of the HWA Poetry Showcase. The showcase will open today, April 1st and run until May 31st and is open for HWA members only.

Full details to submit can be found here.

Note: I will be editing this year’s anthology alongside judges Sara Tantlinger and Angela Yuriko Smith. All types of poetry are welcome and encouraged, as well as all types of horror, although poems that elicit themes of child abuse/pedophilia, racism, homophobia, or transphobia will be immediately dismissed.

Also, I want to take a moment to welcome and celebrate Angela Yuriko Smith who will be taking over as editor for me next year. We'll be working closely together this time around as I mentor her, but I hope you'll all send her well wishes and congratulations. I couldn't be happier to hand the showcase off to her very capable hands!

With that said, let’s meet the judges and have a little chat!

SMW: When did you first get into poetry? If you remember the first poem/author you read, feel free to include it here and talk a little about why his or her work has stuck with you all these years.

ST: I know it sounds cliché, but like for many of us, Edgar Allan Poe was my    gateway into the world of horror poetry. I remember studying his pieces in middle school, and by that point I already loved R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, so having this introduction to how horror could be extended into poetry and wasn’t just for novels has influenced me ever since. I was also dealing with grief and a traumatic loss in late middle school, so I think Poe’s own focus on grief was something I intuitively became more and more drawn toward, but it took me years of studying his work and growing older myself to really appreciate the catharsis and peace I found in his words.

AYS: The first poem I remember reading was “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. It was somewhere around third grade, so it was the perfect level of macabre romance for an impressionable girl. Noyes paints such a vivid picture I saw every detail in my mind—and such details! The road as a ribbon of moonlight, Tim the ostler's "hair like mouldy hay," the fated black-eyed daughter braiding her hair with hope. I remember gasping at the end, my hands trembling. She broke her own heart, I remember thinking, but with a musket—for love! It was my first tragedy. For me, the entire world expanded in a breath and became a different place. It was still Cheyenne, Wyoming and I was still sitting on the edge on a dusty playground but that poem blew everything up and put me in a new universe... one inhabited by bold words of intense gravity. They pulled me through the white space, like a wormhole, and deposited me in a brilliant new existence. It was probably the first time I'd experienced metaphor in this way, and I was amazed that saying the moon was "a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas" conveyed a better understanding than "it was a windy night." “The Highwayman” thrilled me with the power of language. I vanished into this place of claret velvet coats and black-eyed women who managed to thwart unjust authority at any cost.  Alfred Noyes had conjured an escape from the mundane for me. This was true magic.


SMW: What are you hoping to see this year from poetry submitted to the showcase?

ST: It’s easy to fall into familiar tropes with horror, so I’m really hoping to see writers take those tropes and put unique spins on them. I want poetry from diverse voices and perspectives, poetry that doesn’t shy away from visceral descriptions, and poetry that captures a story within its limited lines. Don’t be afraid to send us your darkest pieces, and really evoke all the senses when you immerse us deep into your lyrical worlds.

AYS: I hope to find work with the potential to leave me gasping like “The Highwayman,” but in a new voice building a new world. Poems have the power to awaken the dormant parts of us with images and ideas. Ahead lies the potential for poetry that takes our breath away among the frigid stars before plunging us to suffocate in the underworld. As long as it leaves us breathless, I will love it. Some of these poems have already been written and sit waiting for submissions to open. Others will be scribbled out on a deadline. All have the potential to break up the grey, mundane matter in our lives and bring forth new dreams and demons. But to be more truthful, I don't hope that we will see breathtaking poetry—I'm certain of it. The HWA is soaked in dark talent. I'm excited to see what they/we conjure.

SMW: It’s no secret that speculative poetry is certainly getting more popular. How do you interpret the rise in dark poetry over the years?

ST: Dark poetry has been with us for such a long time, from historical scops to a Twitter-sized poem online, we’ve always been telling each other horror stories through poetry. It feels natural that in these uncertain times dark poetry would rise again -- and it’s very exciting to see it continue to gain traction! Social media definitely has a huge part in that; it’s easy to share and promote what we write, but dark poetry in particular has a unique flavor and enticement. Honestly, after the start of the pandemic and lockdown, my brain struggled to focus on super long works, but poems felt like home. A lot of us find comfort in horror, and dark poetry is equipped to give us those short, descriptive, beautifully haunting bursts of stories and songs. I certainly hope we see this trend continue in its popularity, and I strongly hope publishers see the value in that and pay poets more for their work.

AYS: Poetry is able to impart a special vision of reality more true than actual fact. Comparing poetic truth and factual truth is like comparing a fresh apple to a painting of an apple. They can both be called apples, but the poem is the experience, and the factual truth is just a mouthful of old paint chips. A poem is biting into reality to feel the juice run down, sticky, and sweet enough to catch a summer day or a first kiss—or death if it's poison. The facts without poetry are flavorless, safe, and bland. Alfred Noyes could have just let his highwayman promise to return at dusk. "Cool," Bess (the landlord's black-eyed daughter) would have probably replied. Instead, the dashing robber promised to return "When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor..." and thrilled not only Bess, but the rest of us.

I think this ability to express truth in 3D is why poetry, especially dark poetry, is in demand. The last year was a dark one, but this isn't a sufficient way to sum up all the agony, shock, and fear we collectively experienced. To say "It was a tough year" is like calling a painting of an apple an apple and expecting it to be a good snack. It's not wrong to call it an apple but it hardly does justice to the depths of pain many have endured... still endure. Dark poetry allows us to share that emotion in a way that lets us sink our teeth into it and taste the bitter tang that stabs our eyes until we weep. 

Many people don't understand how to experience deep emotion. When we learn to walk, we also learn strong emotions are something to keep inside. Even before social media flattened our lives into viral smiles, we had the pressure of conforming to artificial standards. This is why art matters. It's a pressure valve that allows toxic sentiment to escape. Poetry is a way we can smile and say "everything is not fine" without losing face and friends. People can read a poem about life collapsing and witness their own shame, despair and loathing reflected there. They are allowed to experience the catastrophe from a safe distance and then safely tuck it away on a shelf... or become a poet themselves. Either way, it's a win for poetry, and that is a win for us all. Here's hoping the mainstream keeps exploring dark poetry and we can assimilate them into the shadows with us. For the greater good, of course. 

Bios:

Sara Tantlinger is the author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning TheDevil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, and the Stoker-nominated works To Be Devoured, Cradleland of Parasites, and Not All Monsters. Along with being a mentor for the HWA Mentorship Program, she is also a co-organizer for the HWA Pittsburgh Chapter. She embraces all things macabre and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraTantlinger, at saratantlinger.com and on Instagram @inkychaotics.

Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher, and author with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism.

Her first collection of poetry, In Favor of Pain, was nominated for a 2017 Elgin Award. Her novella, Bitter Suites, is a 2018 Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist. In 2019 she won the SFPA’s poetry contest in the dwarf form category and has been nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize for poetry.

She co-publishes Spaceand Time magazine with author husband Ryan Aussie Smith. Space and Time has been publishing fantasy, horror, and science fiction poetry and prose for over five decades. For more information visit SpaceandTime.net.

Her work has been published in several print and online publications, including the Horror Writers Association’s Poetry Showcase vols. 2-4, Christmas Lites vols. 1-6 and the Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology, winner of Alberta Book Publishing’s Speculative Fiction Book of the Year.

Angela currently enjoys living in Independence, Missouri with her husband and fellow author and narrator Ryan Aussie Smith and their pack of dogs.

To find her books, visit her Amazon page.

Stephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her work has been showcased in numerous venues such as Weird Tales, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Fantastic Tales of Terror, Year's Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 2, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 8, as well as many others.

Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Her Bram Stoker award-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, and most recently, The Apocalyptic Mannequin. Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

Follow Wytovich on her blog at http://stephaniewytovich.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter @SWytovich​.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Beautiful Horror: A Guest Post by Meghan Arcuri


Hello Friends and Fiends--

Today in the Madhouse, I'm honored to host author Meghan Arcuri. I feel like I've known Meghan forever, and she's one of the sweetest, kindest, most welcoming people I've met in the business. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of meeting or reading her work yet, Arcuri is a fiction writer whose short stories can be found in various anthologies, including Borderlands 7 (Borderlands Press), Madhouse (Dark Regions Press), Chiral Mad, and Chiral Mad 3 (Written Backwards). She is a Bram Stoker Award® nominee and is currently the Vice President of the Horror Writers Association (yay!). She currently lives with her family in New York’s Hudson Valley and you can visit her online at meghanarcuri.com, facebook.com/meg.arcuri, or on Twitter (@MeghanArcuri).

I asked Meghan today to sit down with me and chat about what initially drew her to the horror genre and have she navigates her space within it. Her response--as expected--was beautifully written and a breath of fresh air, honesty, and vulnerability. I have no doubt you'll enjoy her words, and likely will find some of yourself in the essay below.


Until next time,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Perfectly Imperfect
by Meghan Arcuri


Can I let you in on a little secret?

Horror didn’t always grab me.

In fact, when I was younger, I hardly read any at all.

So when Stephanie asked me to write this blog, the following thoughts jumped into my head:

You don’t know as much as anyone else.

You’re a fraud.

You know nothing.

Say no.


Similar thoughts crept in when John Palisano asked me to be the Vice President of the Horror Writers Association:

You don’t have anywhere near the same horror background as these people do.

You’re a fraud.

You know nothing.

Say no.


I grew up in a stable home with supportive, loving parents. I felt safe. I had my health and a great group of friends. My biggest worries involved getting good grades and deciding whom to ask to the prom. I enjoyed stories with good heroes and happily ever afters. I hadn’t the time (nor the stomach) for scary things and ambiguity; I was too busy trying to be perfect. To be a “good” girl who always did the “right” thing.In my quiet, sheltered life, I had zero perspective.

Then I grew up and started living a little. Although I didn’t experience anything I couldn’t handle, the bumps along my journey opened my eyes, broadened my view.

And that perfection I had wanted? Unattainable. Striving for it unsustainable. It was downright exhausting, in fact. (Pro tip: parenting and perfection don’t mix.)

I started writing about the time I came to this realization. A lame, tame urban fantasy that brought me to Borderlands Boot Camp, surrounded by horror writers.

Try writing horror, they said.

It’ll be fun, they said.

And you know what?

They were right.

I listened. I read more horror. I tried writing my own.

And a whole world opened up to me.

I’m drawn to horror because it is the antithesis of what I was drawn to as a child, the antithesis of who I was (and even who I still kind of am).

Complicated, messy, and raw, horror gives you characters you love to hate, or characters you love and hate. Like the perfect gentleman who quietly sizes up your innards (Hello, Hannibal).

It gives you magics, dark and mysterious. Maybe that magical forest (or person, or object) will provide you with the answers you need; or maybe it’ll unleash something more sinister. (See Boneset and Feathers by Gwendolyn Kiste … please.)

It gives you endings that at first seem neat and tidy but—look out—the rug gets pulled out from under you on the last page, the last paragraph, the last sentence, and all that remains is a guttural sound or a “What the f—?” emanating from your lips. (Brian Keene’s DarkHollow and Paul Tremblay’s A HeadFull of Ghosts come to mind … thanks, guys).

The contradictions, the darkness, the ambiguity are all incredibly refreshing to someone who has always tried to stay on the straight and narrow.

Horror allows me to play, to be someone I’m not, to experience the dread, the despair … all within the safety of the pages of a book.

So why didn’t I read much horror when I was younger?

Simply put, I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t have enough perspective. But now I’m a little older, a little wiser. Sure, I’m still the same rule-following, goodie-two-shoes I always was. If I’m being honest, I still like my good guys and happily ever afters, too. But I have more experiences, more sorrows, an expanded world-view. I know life isn’t perfect, and it’s not supposed to be.

And this is what draws me to horror: its beautiful imperfections.

Friday, March 5, 2021

A Creepy Cover’s Worth 50,000 Words: Art Madness with EV Knight

 Hello Friends and Fiends--

Last month, I reread Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix and dove back into the wild, untamed realm of the 80s for some research. Since then, I've been itching to pick up the whole lot of books that Valancourt has in this series, especially after reading Elizabeth Engstrom's When Darkness Loves Us a few years ago. I bring this up because my guest today is smitten by 80s cover art, too: the gore, the bodies, the magnificent mystery and intensity of it all. Just try to keep us away!

Today I welcome EV Knight to The Madhouse to talk about her horror origins. EV Knight is the author of the Stoker nominated debut novel The Fourth Whore. She has also written a novella titled Dead Eyes for Unnerving Press’s Rewind or Die series. Her short stories and poetry can be found in a number of anthologies, magazines, and the HWA’s 2019 Poetry Showcase. She received her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in 2019. EV can be found wandering the haunted streets of Savannah, Georgia with her husband Matt, and their four naughty sphynx cats—Feenix, Luna, Bizzabout Fitchett, and Ozymandias Fuzzfoot the First.

EV's works is feminist, intense, and doesn't pull any punches, which is just how I like my horror. I know you folks will enjoy her work as much as I do, too, so read on and enjoy, and please be sure to follow her on Twitter to stay up to date with all her publishing adventures: @EVKnightAuthor.

Stay scary,

Stephanie M. Wytovich

A Creepy Cover’s Worth 50,000 Words

by EV Knight

I was a child of the eighties which means that my formative years crossed paths with the heyday of pulp fiction horror. This is not to say that prior to finding horror, I wasn’t already a voracious reader—I certainly was. Raised on Grimm’s fairy tales and Beverly Cleary, I found my active imagination hooked. But when adrenaline-fueled trips to the Scholastic Book Fairs could no longer satiate my hunger, I stole my mom’s Harlequin Romance novels. Lusty covers of glistening pecs and half-torn frocks coupled with the taboo of printed sex entertained me for a time until I got caught with one in school. God bless my teacher though. Rather than discipline me for reading above my maturity level, she introduced me to a set of historical teen romances. I enjoyed them until I cracked a code. You see, the cover art always showed the main female protagonist standing in front of a landscape fitting the setting of the novel. Slightly behind her and a little smaller stood the boy who was her initial love interest and in the bottom right corner of the illustration was another boy—the competition for her love! Guess what I figured out about five books or so in? The girl ALWAYS ended up with the small guy in the corner. I tested the theory with a few more books and that was it. Boring.


By fifth grade, I’d switched to mysteries. Agatha Christie was my favorite, then Robin Cook’s medical thrillers. The covers of mysteries—at least at that time—usually consisted of flashy fonts and one or two “Chekov’s guns” floating in a void beneath the fierce title. While I preferred mysteries and thrillers to romance, I discovered a pattern to them as well. Someone I’d already met was the killer and the smart detective would eventually figure it out after falling for a few red herrings. With the killer in custody, the protagonists would crack a joke, and everyone would live happily ever after. (I know I’m grossly simplifying other genres and I beg forgiveness. The opinions expressed in this guest blog are my own and do not necessarily represent Ms. Wytovich or any other blogger).

But then, one magical day in the local pharmacy, something happened that would change my life. While waiting for whatever terrible tasting medicine the doctor had prescribed for me for a fever that kept me home from school, I spun a rack of paperbacks standing in front of the counter. There was a cover with a porcelain doll’s head, cracked, chipped, with a piece missing over her eye. Now, I may be a little cloudy on the details, but I think there was blood running down her forehead. In the background was a decrepit dollhouse with spiderwebs in the windows. Oh, it was beautiful, and I had to read it. I had to know what this cover illustration meant. My mom, bless her heart for never censoring the books I read, bought it. I read it all, cover to cover that day. It was creepy and scary and I had no idea what would happen. No character felt safe. Anyone could be the next victim and I was doubtful this book would have a happy ending.

I rode along with my mom to the pharmacy, the grocery store, anywhere I might find a rack of horror and she was always willing to drop the five bucks. I picked the books based on their covers and it wasn’t until later that I began also reading the blurbs on the back. I started reading horror and I never looked back. That year, for Christmas, I received my first Stephen King novel—Pet Sematary. (Spoiler Alert) It did not end happily ever after. Inspired by the way words could be arranged in such a way to elicit actual fear, real live goosebumps, and the certainty that Hannibal Lecter was in fact hiding in my closet, I knew I wanted to write like that as well. And with every word I wrote, I imagined a kick-ass cover to go with it.

The draw of good cover art is still strong enough to get me to buy a book even if I’m not so sure about the back cover blurb. Horror has some great authors but also, some really talented artists. Daniele Serra designed the cover for my Stoker nominated debut novel The Fourth Whore and I’m dying to write a book to match one of Lynn Hanson’s amazing artful covers. It’s no longer the eighties, but attention spans have never been shorter. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then I think horror book covers coupled with “anything could happen” plots will ensure readers for years to come.