This week we have another fantastic guest dropping by the blog to give us some insight into her writing world. Stephanie Wytovich is not only a talented writer, but she’s a highly-praised poet. Her work has been published in places such as DarkFuse Magazine and The Literary Hatchet, and several of her poetry collections are available wherever books are sold. Her debut novel, The Eighth, published by Dark Regions Press, is getting some rave reviews and I can’t wait to get my paws on a copy. IT LOOKS AWESOME. This Is Horror calls it a, “…monumental and hugely entertaining read.”
Stop by Stephanie’s blog to keep up with her writing endeavors and be sure to check out her interviews with some of the biggest names in horror.
TIM MEYER: Let’s start by telling us a little about your latest book release.
STEPHANIE WYTOVICH: My debut novel, The Eighth, came out in November 2016 from Dark Regions Press after serving as my master’s thesis and earing me a MFA from Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction program in 2014. Inspired by the worlds and works of Dante Alighieri and Clive Barker, I wanted to reconstruct a version of Hell that brought life to the Seven Deadly Sins while inviting readers to contemplate sin as an invitation to celebrate our grotesqueries.
My main characters are Paimon (a soul collector), Rhea (a mortal girl who is both Paimon’s and Lucifer’s love interest, and who can also detect one’s deadliest sin by his aura) and Arazel (the ringleader of the circle of Lust). The three of them form a trinity, if you will, of varying levels of control, something that all of them are haunted by in one way or another. Their stories intersect and crash into one another in unconventional ways that move away from the cannon in some respects because I wanted to write a book that stepped away from the cliché stereotypes of the virgin in a white dress, or the Catholic priest giving an exorcism to a little girl. In The Eighth, you’ll find reverse prayers, and strong women who have embraced their bodies, not as something sacred and holy, but as a weapon of pleasure and punishment. You’ll be embraced in a world of snow and ash, and the fire you’ll burn in will be one of psychological torment and emotional agony. The Eighth is both my homage to literary horror and mythology and my love story to pleasure and pain.
TM: What seriously messed up moment in your life made you want to become a horror author?
SW: I think it’s a common misconception that something terrible happened to all of us and that’s why we tend to favor the dark side of the arts. For me, personally, horror has always been my life because I find it grotesquely beautiful as well as empowering. Quite frankly, I think that the most beautiful things in this world are honest and raw, scarred and perhaps hidden in the shadows. I would much rather hear a story about someone who has looked into the face of the Devil and survived than hear a love story about two people finally finding solace in each other because horror gives me strength, it forces me to play “what-if,” and I like books and art and music that makes me feel and experience emotions that maybe aren’t necessarily safe and comfortable. I embrace the strange and unusual, the weird and off-kilter, and I find immense satisfaction in meeting characters who aren’t afraid to embrace the parts of them that most people condemn them for.
I write horror because I think it teaches us valuable lessons about our power and our limitations, and it exercises our minds in the fields of survival. I write stories that push psychological and physical boundaries with the human body, and as I work in extremes, my characters are forced into madness, shattered and broken into pieces, forced to give in or give up. Sometimes they bring this upon themselves, sometimes it’s done to them, but what I think my message is with my writing, is that there is always a way to find acceptance in our faults and scars, and whatever comes out of the ashes and takes its first breath is beautiful in its own way, even if it’s monstrous.
SW: I’m a poet by nature, so while shorter works will always be my preferred form, I do thoroughly enjoy the challenge that a novel or a short story gives me, and I need to be writing both forms at the same time in order for me to finish anything.
TM: Name some writers who have influenced your work.
SW: There are countless writers that I could name here, but I’ll throw out a few today: Clive Barker, Jack Ketchum, Poppy Z. Brite, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath…
TM: Was there a particular horror film/book that impacted you as a writer? You can have more than one!
SW: The book was Pet Semetery by Stephen King. I can still remember reading it as a kid, curled up in my bed and reading until the sun came up all the while being deathly afraid that my recently deceased rabbit, Fluffy, was going to come back from the grave and kill me for not being a better rabbit parent to her. My brother didn’t share the same fears as me, but he also didn’t bury one rabbit, one dog, and three goldfish behind the shed with our father, so he was probably safe.
I, however, knew what was out there, what was really capable.
He was still a child.
As for the movie, the first film I remember watching was Salem’s Lot. I was way too little to be watching this, but my mom was ironing and I was downstairs with her, and the window scene pretty much broke me. I had two windows on either side of my bed as a kid, and after seeing that, I would sleep with the covers up to my neck out of fear that I would get bit.
Side note: Sleep has never been my friend and I blame my irrational fear of windows on my mother…and Stephen King.
TM: What’s your writing process like? Do you outline?
SW: When it comes to fiction, I never used to, but I do now. Kind of. I more or less free write a lot of ideas and possibilities down as I’m moving along, and then I’ll see where the story takes me and readjust as need be. If it’s a novel, I’m writing the poem version of the scene before I turn it into prose, but no matter what, I’m always surrounded by post-it notes and cork boards, and there are scribbles everywhere, on me, on my phone, and anywhere that can hold a message, really.
I’m a walking example of organized chaos, ask anyone.
For poetry, well, that’s a little…um, different. I get a theme in my head, and then I come up with the titles first: five titles for every letter of the alphabet. I don’t necessarily write each piece in order, but that’s why my poetry collections are in alphabetical order because it helps me structure the arc, tone, and climax of the book, and it also keeps me organized and on track. I also use Pinterest to make storyboards for each book, and I fill them full of images and quotes to help me along, too; it’s almost a visual outline, if anything.
Again, organized chaos.
TM: What do you love about writing?
SW: I love bonding with my monsters and demons, showing a sympathetic side to the darkness. Frankenstein is my favorite book and it’s influenced me in countless ways from my interest in body horror to my tendency to show the beauty in the grotesque, and I think it’s hard to read that book without feeling a little sad for the monster with his abandonment and forced isolation.
I live for telling the other side of the story.
TM: What do you enjoy about the horror genre?
SW: Its freedom. It lets me clap for the parts of life that most stay silent over.
TM: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
SW: Never stop writing. Ever.
Write the story you want to write whether you think it will sell or not. If I listened to every person who told me my ideas were stupid, or that women don’t write this way, or I was trying to do something too risky, I would never have published anything. Stay true to yourself, listen to the voices in your head, and make art because you have to, not because you think it will please someone else.
TM: What does “Women in Horror Month” mean to you?
SW: I think Women in Horror Month is a time to celebrate female artists, and while I know that we’d all much prefer that we didn’t need it, and that we’d much rather just be known as “writers” instead of “female writers,” the hard truth is that the playing field still isn’t equal and until it is, we need to be in people’s face about it, constantly reminding them that we’re here and just as capable and deserving of our spot on the page.
TM: What’s next on the writing agenda?
SW: Right now, I’m working on a short story project, and I’m about to dive into a collaborative piece with my beautifully creative and wonderful friends, Mercedes M. Yardley and Brian Kirk. I’m sure I’ll be writing poetry on the side while I’m doing all of this, as well as outlining sequel to The Eighth, so it’s going to be a busy, busy year for sure, but truthfully, I love what I do, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Bring on the madness. It’s time to get weird.
Praise for The Eighth:
“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
“The Eighth is a truly unique reimagining of the levels of hell and the evils that dwell there, told in the voice of a bold and courageous young author who is just now coming into her prime. Stephanie M. Wytovich has created a work that, while truly horrifying, manages to transcend genre altogether, becoming a literary tour de force the likes of which is seldom seen in horror or any other category of fiction or film. It’s a symphony of language and creativity performed by an author who can comfortably rub elbows with the best writers in horror, and in any other genre for that matter. The Eighth is one of the most exciting books to come along in 2016 and one of the best debuts of the last decade or so. Wytovich is at the top of her game and gaining momentum like a runaway freight train, and you’ll be doing yourself a great disservice if you miss out on this monumental and hugely entertaining read.” – This is Horror
Stephanie Wytovich’s The Eighth is a savage tale of betrayal, regret, and the dark side of love in its many forms. The poetic imagery she sprinkles throughout balances the brutality with beauty.” – Chris Marrs, author of Wildwoman and Everything Leads Back to Alice
“A fierce and emotionally intense debut.”- Craig DiLouie, author of Suffer the Children
“A brilliant debut from a major new talent, full of darkness, fire, and devilry. Indeed, the sins in this novel are so well realized that I fear just a little for Ms. Wytovich’s soul.”- Rio Youers, author of Westlake Soul and Point Hollow
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