Good afternoon, friends and fiends--
Today in The Madhouse, I'm thrilled to help celebrate the release day for Susan Snyder's debut collection, Broken Nails. Susan Snyder is a writer of horror short fiction and poetry. Her short story “Param,” which appeared in the Trigger Warning: Body Horror anthology from Madness Heart Press, is nominated for a 2020 Splatterpunk award, and her work can be seen in the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase and multiple magazines and anthologies. Susan also writes a weekly movie review blog called Sharksploitation Sunday that I encourage you all to check out as well!
Now I had the pleasure to work with Susan in one of my StokerCon workshops, and lucky for me, I also got a sneak peek at her collection here, so I can say firsthand that it's full of violent delights and delicious occult imagery. It's definitely one that you'll want to add to your TBR piles, but in the meantime, sit back, relax, and get a taste of what went on behind-the-scenes when it came to creating Broken Nails.
With coffins and bleeding hearts,
Stephanie M. Wytovich
SMW: Congratulations on your debut collection, Broken Nails! I’m so excited for you. Can you tell us a little bit about how/when you started writing poetry?
SS: I have been writing poetry since I can remember, but it started off as song lyrics. I was a bit of a headbanger as a teenager so my affinity for angry words began back then. I stopped writing lyrics when I realized I didn’t like the structure of it. Creating free-form poems appealed to me and I felt I was able to express myself better. Also, I had zero musical ability. So my dreams of leading a metal band flew out the window. In retrospect, that is probably a good thing!
SMW: Something that I’m always fascinated with is how writers pick their titles, probably because I always find myself agonizing over it and waiting for that perfect epiphany/light-bulb moment. How did you settle on Broken Nails?
SS: Oh, I agonize about it too! I love words and phrases that have double meanings, or the meaning is not clear until you read the piece. Several of the poems in this collection use fingernails as imagery. The idea of pretty perfect lacquered nails is such a stereotype of femininity. I tend to write about women as the antagonist, the ones committing violence, whether justified or not. It’s interesting to examine women’s capacity for violence. It looks different than male violence and usually [is] much more disturbing. [Plus], what would become of our pretty pink nails when they are used to tear flesh or wield a weapon? The other side of the title is a statement on breaking the chains of misogyny and patriarchy, busting out of the box. The cover reflects that as well. I love that cover!
SMW: In your introduction, you mention that you have recently become a “card-carrying Satanist.” Can you tell us a little bit about what that means to you and how it informs your voice/style in poetry and/or the horror genre?
SS: I was raised Catholic, even though I was a very vocal non-believer. Too much hypocrisy for my taste. I have always bounced around trying to find that elusive “truth.” I studied the Vedic scriptures, Hinduism, Wicca, Buddhism. I suppose that is a basic human need, to explain our existence and to ease our fear of death. Over time, I found myself questioning everything. At the same time, I have always found myself fascinated by the notion of Satan and his symbolism and imagery. I have never believed in Satan as a real entity, or even Hell for that matter. But the imagery! A couple years ago, I found The Satanic Temple through a friend. It just clicked. First, you must understand that modern Satanists are atheists. We don’t worship Satan or sacrifice babies or perform black mass. I suppose there are always fringe [people] who might do those things, but it is not within our definition nor is it advocated. In a nutshell, we hold the symbol of Satan as the rebel who stood up to God when God was being unjust. We stand for individual thinking, body autonomy, LGBTQ rights, reproductive rights, and protection of all human rights, as long as it is not a harm to anyone else. Satanists love to point out the hypocrisy in religion and politics, and I have done that my whole life!
Now having said all that, I still love to use the imagery of Satan in my work. As a villain, a scapegoat, a savior, a puppet master, even a lover. The possibilities are endless. Satan evokes different reactions depending on the reader’s background and beliefs. Let’s face it. He is a lot of fun if you write horror.
SMW: Your collection is broken up into three sections that detail themes of: the other, pain, and various satanic archetypes. What was your favorite part of the collection to write and explore, and then to play devil’s advocate (ha!), what was the hardest part of it for you?
SS: Breaking up the poems into three sections came after I wrote them all. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to publish a collection but my publisher and friend encouraged me to because he believes in my work. I guess a lot of us writers don’t think our work is “good enough.”Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. I’ll let the readers decide. The real reason to get this collection out, for me, is to have my voice heard. The middle section, “Reflection,” was the toughest for me to put out into the world. I have been in some terrible relationships where there has been abuse and rampant gaslighting. There were years where I walked on egg shells to avoid setting my partner off. I fell into self-medicating with alcohol. Somehow, I pulled out of it, but with some pretty deep scars. I swore I would never be silenced again. Combine that with a lot of seething anger at what I went through, some directed at myself, and out popped some very direct and honest work. It is hard for me to share those, but I need to. Someone else may read it and relate and know they aren’t alone in their pain. Maybe that can provide some sense of comfort to someone.
SMW: I first got started writing poetry as a form of therapy, something to quell the pain and shut off the voices in my head. You talked a little bit about poetry in a similar fashion, and I’m wondering if you might be open to talking a little bit more about how the form works as an act of catharsis for you?
SS: I spoke before about letting my voice be heard. So that is a big part of the catharsis for me. Speak it loudly until your voice cracks! Also, I have heard, especially from the recent Me Too movement, countless stories of women being harassed, assaulted, persecuted, treated like they are less, even murdered. It ripped me apart but I felt so helpless to do anything about it. Writing horror from a feminist perspective was extremely helpful in processing my past abuse and trying to make sense of a world where being female is still somehow treated like a defect. Women hold [a] millenia of pain and suffering. I imagined what the release of that would look like, turning on our persecutors. We would tear this world apart. Writing about this gives me comfort. That sounds pretty twisted but I am a horror writer after all!
SMW: Can you tell us a little about your process for writing poetry?
SS: I’m not sure if I have a proper process. Things just materialize in my head. I do know that when I sit down to write, I give myself permission to be honest. Joe Lansdale likes to say how writers should write like everyone they know is dead. In other words, don’t worry about going too dark or gory or painful. Don’t concern yourself with what others might get their panties in a bunch about. Just write honestly. Up until a few years ago, I was not writing honestly. I cowered from really exploring the meat of it all. Actually, Stephanie, you had a big part in improving my poetry by encouraging me to engage the senses and ramp up the true horror. I had the honor of having you edit one of my poems and it opened my eyes to the fact that I was holding back. I thank you dearly for that.
SMW: You're too sweet. Thank you for your kind words and I'm so happy the edits resonated and helped you to produce these wonderful poems! I've always found horror to be catharic, a genre to help me process my demons, so I'm wondering if that's the same for you. What about the genre drives/inspires you as a poet?
SS: I also write horror fiction. I can’t write anything else but horror. My brain doesn’t work in other genres. I am such a horror junkie. There is freedom in horror where I can say or do whatever my little imagination wants. If it disturbs or scares the reader, all the better! That’s the whole point. Usually when I tell someone I write poetry, especially being a woman, their minds go to romance or fantasy. The juxtaposition of a historically revered form of writing that typically encapsulates beauty and art, and the dark seedy underbelly of horrific imagery...that makes me very happy.
SMW: What speculative poetry books have you read lately and/or are on your TBR list? Anything specific that you’re particularly looking forward to?
SS: I am a big fan of yours, Stephanie, and I haven’t read Mourning Jewelry yet. So that needs to happen! I also have been wanting to read Sara Tantlinger’s The Devil’s Dreamland which are poems inspired by H.H. Holmes. A couple of my favorite collections are Wrath James White’s If You Died Tomorrow, I Would Eat Your Corpse and John Baltisberger’s The Configuration Discordant.
SMW: What is next in store for your readers?
SS: I will be doing a reading at Killercon this August, which of course will be online this year for obvious reasons. I am also nominated for a Splatterpunk award for my story “Param” which appeared in the anthology Trigger Warning: Body Horror last year.
I am still plugging away at poetry and short fiction. I would like to put out another poetry collection next year. For sure, I will have a fun book coming out in the summer of 2021 about sharksploitation films. I have a weekly blog on Sundays on madnessheart.press where I review bad shark movies. It is one of my biggest passions and so much fun to write. So that will be something a little different, and I am very excited about it!
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