Stephanie M. Wytovich is a name well known with the dark fiction genre. A writer of both poetry and prose, Stephanie is also the poetry editor at Raw Dog Screaming Press and a book reviewer at Nameless Magazine. An instructor by day and dark fiction writer during the night, it is safe to say that Stephanie is indeed very busy.
I recently read and reviewed The Eighth – the debut novel from Stephanie, released by Dark Regions Press. I was blown away by this outstanding novel that mixes elements of horror and dark fantasy to perfection. I thought it about time that I caught up with her to see what else she has planned for 2017 and beyond.
GNoH: Before we get into the writing, where did your love of the written word come from? Were your family big readers and was there a particular book you read that made you say to yourself “I want to write”?
My mom was, and still is, a big reader, and my dad has always loved monster movies, so with the two of them leading me through life, Halloween quickly became our Christmas, every Sunday was spent watching the worst SYFY movie we could find, and I had zero chances of being interested in anything that wasn’t strange and unusual. Hell, instead of a Barbie or a Cabbage Patch Doll, I carried around a stuffed ET and a Troll that I named Tina.
But I digress…
I’ve been a voracious reader since I was a child—I never left the house without a book--and my parents kept me on a steady diet of Stephen King, giving me Pet Semetery at way too young of an age so that when my pet rabbit, Fluffy, died, I was sure that she was going to resurrect from her grave and take her revenge on me.
I’ve always loved dark stories, and I fell in love with vampires after watching Salem’s Lot with my mom one night. Most girls at that age (around 8-12) were probably watching chick flicks and princess movies, but not me. I was watching Interview with a Vampire and Lost Boys and unbeknownst to me and my parents, developing a palate for all things beautiful and grotesque. It wasn’t long before I realized that horror wasn’t just a genre in its own, though, so I moved into reading memoir and poetry and started studying the madness that is the human psyche.
When I was in eighth grade, I wrote a story about a rogue vampire clan that slaughtered a village and took a girl away from her family, making her a blood slave. It wasn’t long after that until I was set to the guidance counsellor to make sure that everything was okay.
So yeah, I’ve always wanted to write, and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” probably sealed my fate with dark fiction, but I first knew I wanted to be a poet, specifically, after reading Impulse by Ellen Hopkins.
GNoH: I am sure every author, be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry, can remember their very first published work. What was yours and where was it published?
Oh yes. After many years spent hanging out in abandoned asylums and prisons and writing, Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Raw Dog Screaming Press picked up my poetry collection in 2013, and it was later nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.
GNoH: You’re an instructor during the day. Can you tell us a little about that?
I teach in Western Connecticut State University’s MFA Program for Professional and Creative Writing where I focus on teaching the candidates about speculative fiction (primarily horror, fantasy, and science fiction). It’s been a lot of fun, and so far, I’ve gotten to teach a contemporary YA fantasy course, and this term, I’ll be focusing strictly on science fiction, both with classic and contemporary works.
My other day job is at an accounting firm where I do proofreading and technical writing.
GNoH: Was it an easy transition moving from poetry to writing a novel?
Not at all.
In fact, it was probably one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to in my life, because even though I tend to identify myself as poet, I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I tried for years when I was in college, but I could never force myself to finish anything that I worked on, and that was a big factor into why I wanted to go to graduate school to specifically study writing, because up until that point, my focus was primarily on literature and art history.
When I entered Seton Hill University’s MFA Program for Writing Popular Fiction, I got the guidance I needed to help me write the novel, but I can assure you, it was no easy feat. After my first semester in the program, I had almost dropped out twice because I kept hearing that my prose read too much like poetry. I struggled with it for a really long time, but eventually, I got the hang of it, and by the time I graduated, I had not only finished my novel, but finished two poetry collections as well.
GNoH: What writing advice would you give to a younger you or perhaps somebody looking at writing something themselves? And what are some of the more common traps for aspiring writers?
I spent years trying to please everyone with my writing, so much so, that the stress and pressure I was putting on myself became unhealthy. I desperately wanted to be good at my craft, so much so that when it displeased my mentors, or my teachers, it was crippling for me. When I started working with Will Horner my third semester of graduate school, he changed the game for me. Will saw my vision and heart as a writer more than anyone did, and he gave me the courage to write from my heart, poetry and all, and it was through him that I was able to finish the novel and find my voice as an author.
As such, the best advice that I could give to anyone is: never give up. It’s going to be hard, and at times it’s going to feel suffocating because rejection hurts and writing is painful, but it’s always worth it in the end. We’re not writers because we want to be; we’re writers because it’s who we are at our core, so don’t rob yourself of that identity. Trust yourself and your instincts. Create because it makes you happy. Befriend your monsters, embrace the light that is around you, and write the story that you’re most afraid to tell the world because that’s the one we need to hear.
GNoH: Did you find that writing a novel as opposed to a collection of poems more exhausting and demanding, or did you feel energized at the challenge?
It’s a different type of exhaustion, to be honest. Writing prose is more difficult for me because I’m more accustomed to writing poetry, so in the challenging sense, yes, absolutely, but poetry is emotionally demanding for me, and that makes it all the harder.
See, when I was younger, I had a hard time talking about some bad things that had happened in my life, and my then-therapist suggested that I write about them as a way to process my thoughts and feelings so I felt safer in the confines of my notebook. I wrote incessantly about my experiences, often times making my characters monsters, and when she saw that my themes were dark, and at times, quite gruesome, she told me that I was writing fictionalized stories about creatures and madmen, and that if I wanted to conquer the dark, that I also needed to focus on creating characters who found out how to survive.
Since that moment, that’s what horror—and poetry--has meant to me.
It’s always been about survival, a catharsis to find the light.
GNoH: Did you outline ‘The Eighth’ or was it much more organic and free-flowing?
No, definitely not. I had no idea what I was doing when I first started writing it, so in the beginning it was very organic and free-flowing. I went through six or seven drafts of it in graduate school, so by the end, I had to have an outline out of necessity because there were so many versions that the story had gone through at that point that an outline was the only way for me to keep my head straight.
Having said that, I’m working on the sequel to The Eighth now, and I’ll tell you what….there’s definitely an outline.
It’s just way easier for me that way.
GNoH: You are also the poetry editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press. How did this opportunity come about and what do YOU want to see with poetry submissions?
The fine folks at Raw Dog Screaming Press (Jennifer Barnes and John Edward Lawson) asked me, over pastries and coffee, to be their Poetry Editor back in 2012 after I signed the contract for Hysteria: A Collection of Madness. Collectively, we love poetry and we wanted to give writers another avenue to publish speculative fiction, so we added the poetry imprint to the press and it’s been flourishing ever since.
As to what I’m looking for in a collection? I want poetry that breaks me, that forces me to think outside of my comfort zone. I love dark fiction, whether it’s literary or speculative, so a macabre edge is an absolute must.
So push boundaries.
Show me the beautiful grotesque.
Let me see your scars and meet your monsters.
I want to read the poetry you only whisper to yourself when you think no one is listening.
GNoH: How has the publishing landscape changed since you have been involved it?
I got in the publishing game around 2011 and started routinely publishing in 2012/3, and since then, I’ve seen a rise (and acceptance) of and in speculative poetry, and I’ve witnessed women and LGBT+ authors being read, published, celebrated, and promoted more, which is beyond lovely. Personally, I feel like I have a wonderful writing community in the horror scene that is encouraging, accepting, inclusive, and supportive of what I—and others--write and I’m thankful for that.
GNoH: Where did the concept of ‘The Eighth’ come from? I feel as if it’s a novel that will appeal to both horror fans and fans of dark fantasy. Did you deliberately set out to write a horror novel?
I didn’t really go into it thinking that I was going to write a straight horror or dark fantasy novel. To me, it was always been a story about conflict (emotional, psychological, spiritual) that just so happened to take place in Hell. It definitely has the allure of a dark romance as well, so I think it depends on the reader and what they take out of it as they relate to the characters. Some might just see a fantastical setting with demons and hellfire, but others might see something a little darker, something more horrific that rings true to their own lives and hearts.
Having said that, I entered the MFA program under horror, and at some point in life, when I graduated, I think my concentration of focus was switched to dark fantasy, so truly, I really think it’s up to the reader.
I just like writing about the Devil.
GNoH: The ending certainly left the door ajar for more and I felt there was a little nod to David Fincher’s ‘Seven’ movie there near the end. Will there be another book and is the movie nod deliberate?
I have two more books planned: Deadly Sin and Blessed Dark (tentative titles). Paimon has a long road ahead of him, and I’m really excited to take everyone on the next part of his journey.
And oh, David Fincher. What a brilliant, brilliant man. Seven is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I watched it religiously (ha) while I was writing this book. I definitely wanted to give him a nod in some respect in my novel, and I thought that the box was the best way to do so.
GNoH: Personally, I think the dark fiction genre is in pretty good shape. It isn’t selling by the millions, but its readers are passionate and are overwhelmed with what is currently on offer from both big and smaller presses. What would you like to see more of from the genre and what would you like to see a little less of?
I’d like to see more poetry, selfishly, but that’s because poetry is my favorite form of literature.
On the novel front, I’d like to see a new direction in weird and a step away from the classic throwback anthologies that are out there. I love the classics as much as the next person, and don’t get me wrong, if someone asked me to be in an Edgar Allan Poe tribute anthology, I’d practically vomit out the story and cry from happiness, but I think we’re headed into a new wave of psychological and political horror in terms of tropes and themes, and if there’s going to be a resurrection at all, I’d like it to head towards apocalyptic horror with a technological edge, kind of like what Black Mirror has been doing.
STEPHANIE HAS WRITTEN AN ENLIGHTENING PIECE FOR OUR WOMEN IN HORROR MONTH SERIES OF ARTICLES; READ IT HERE
After Paimon, Lucifer’s top soul collector, falls in love with a mortal girl whose soul he is supposed to claim, he desperately tries everything in his power to save her from the Devil’s grasp. But what happens when a demon has to confront his demons, when he has to turn to something darker, something more sinister for help? Can Paimon survive the consequences of working with the Seven Deadly Sins-sins who have their own agenda with the Devil—or will he fall into a deeper, darker kind of hell?
"The Eighth is a stellar horror debut from Stephanie Wytovich. An intimate, painful map of personal and literal hells that would make Clive Barker proud." – Christopher Golden, New York Times bestselling author
Follow Wytovich at Stephanie M. Wytovich.com and on Twitter