30 October 2014

Proust Your Protagonist with Dark Poetess Stephanie M. Wytovich

Hysteria is the... protagonist (?!)... of the
Bram Stoker Award-nominated poetry
collection by Stephanie M. Wytovich.

Presenting 

Hysteria

It's a strange season. Halloween, that is. It's traditionally a time when anything otherworldly can happen, where time becomes even more immeasurable and abstract, where boundaries between the living and the dead blur. It's a time for the weird and wicked to come out and play.

I don't even know how to lead into this post. I've encountered an...entity...something that personifies primal emotion, panic, fear, and ecstasy. I'm not the same after meeting her, and I doubt you'll be the same if you keep reading.

Meet Hysteria.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Being trapped, isolated, having no way out. I like to think that all of my patients feel this way for in order for them to grow, they must know their greatest fear. They must shake hands with their misery, sleep with their shame, and in the morning, learn to accept their regret. It’s all part of their treatment. All part of getting better.

Where would you like to live?
I like to live right inside their heads, always there, always waiting. I want to be the first voice that they hear when they wake up. The last voice whose screams sing them to sleep.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Control. Complete and utter control.

The quality you most admire in a man?
I like a man who knows how to submit to a woman. And if he’s a masochist, oh, [laughs] then he’ll be very dear to me indeed.

The quality you most admire in a woman?
My girls need to have some fight in them.

Your favorite virtue?
Patience. One must have always a plan—a well-orchestrated plan—and one must be willing to wait for the opportune moment to attack. Patience is a subtle guarantee that you won’t get caught. And I never get caught. And neither do my patients.

Your favorite occupation?
I was born to be a nurse, born to cure the sick. I have a soft spot for weak people, and it’s my duty to make them strong. My asylum is a place for those to come and repent their sins, to create a new and improved sense of self.

And I am their muse.

Your most marked characteristic?
Some think I’m mad, but what they don’t realize is that there is a madness in all of us, a delicious madness that once brought to light is nothing more and nothing less than pure freedom. Madness is a blessing, and I feel bad for those who can’t accept it, or its gifts.

What do you most value in your friends?
I don’t believe in friendship. I believe in power.

What is your principle defect?
I have to wear a gas mask in order to breathe. Too many sick people where I am to trust the air.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
Losing my inability to think, to plot. Lobotomies are pretty frequent around here, and it’s always scary to think about what would happen if doctor and patient switched roles.

What would you like to be?
Immortal. Although, I must say, the devil and I are already pretty close.

Who are your heroes in real life?
People who aren't afraid to speak their minds, to be themselves. People who aren't afraid of the consequences of living. Those are the ones to be admired and they get my respect.

Who are your favorite heroines?
There’s only one heroine I know, and she’s quite lovely [laughs].

What is it you most dislike?
Ignorance. Don’t mock what you don’t understand, and trust me, there’s plenty that you don’t understand. The mind is a labyrinth and it should be walked through carefully for not everything is supposed to make sense.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
Mind control. I know, it does make me seem quite evil, but even nurses in a madhouse have to have fun sometimes. And while I love my patients, they’re such easy targets.

How would you like to die?
Die? My dear child, don’t you know that madness lives forever?

What is your present state of mind?
Ha! Is this a real question, or have you not been paying attention?

What is your motto?
Sometimes, I just like to hear them scream.

So scream for me, baby.

SCREAM.

~*~

(c) Stephanie Wytovich
Stephanie M. Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, a book reviewer for Nameless Magazine, and a well-known coffee addict. 

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 poetry collections, HYSTERIA and Mourning Jewelry, can be found at Raw Dog Screaming Press, and her debut novel, The Eighth, will be out in early 2015 from Dark Regions Press. 

Follow Wytovich at stephaniewytovich.blogspot.com and on twitter @JustAfterSunset.


29 October 2014

Lily and Andresh: My Dearest

Beautiful artwork by deviantArtist Myra, aka Chengggg, of my characters Lily and Andresh, the leads of the Worldwalker series, which starts with The Name and the Key. 

(c) 2014 by Chengggg.
If you'd like to see more artwork from Chengggg, view her gallery here. If you'd like to see other artists tackle Lily and Andresh, visit that gallery here.

Support independent artists! deviantArt is a great place to connect with artists and commission work for your creative projects. I highly recommend it!

11 October 2014

Proust Your Protagonist with Rachel Robins

Meet Ava, the protagonist of Rachel Robin's
military urban fantasy, Ex Nihilo.

Presenting

Ava Raine

As some of you are aware, I'm an adjunct professor, so seeing various career reps and military recruiters on campus is pretty much the norm since ideally, students are in college to prepare for their future careers.

After the latest job fair, I heard this rumor about a new division in the Army, and then the word "monster" thrown around...I had try and figure out what was up with this. I don't really have answers for you, but I have Ava.

Ava has just too great of a personality to pass up for an interview, and although I couldn't get her to really talk about the "monster division" she's been drafted into, she was game for a good old-fashioned Proust questionnaire.

~*~

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Whatever the problem may be—having no way out. That trapped feeling, where there’s no hope for a better outcome and no way to fix whatever’s broken.

Where would you like to live?
If I were allowed, I think it'd be nice to be back in Phoenix. In a neighborhood not too far from my mom and my siblings. Maybe one of the nicer areas of Glendale or—if I’m dreaming big here—Verado.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
A thick slice of moist chocolate cake.

The quality you most admire in a man?
Sassy banter.

The quality you most admire in a woman?
Fearlessness.

Your favorite virtue?
Prudence. But I wish I was braver.

Your favorite occupation?
I remember a time when I used to dance...

Your most marked characteristic?
My scars. Or maybe my walk. It’s hard to say. Either way, you could easily pick me out in a crowd of 50, no problem.

What do you most value in your friends?
I don’t have many. In the few I do have, however, their kindness and consideration. Their willingness to help when I’m in need, like it’s a matter of course. Nothing big.

What is your principle defect?
In body, my right hip. In mind...I'm a coward.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
Having your arms and legs hacked off, then being trapped alone in a black abyss and what untouched skin you have is plagued by the sensation of spiders crawling. Where time and space is meaningless, your stomach never gets hungry, and there’s no need to breathe. Where the occasional whisper hovers just beyond the edge of comprehension. Where it’s impossible to sleep, no matter how much you want to. Where there’s no end, no beginning, and no way out. Where you go mad from the silence of it all.

Granted, shit like this doesn't happen often. But you never know. It could. And it would really suck.

What would you like to be?
Normal.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My mom is. It takes guts to finish raising your best friend’s children, but to have one of those kids end up like one of the freaks? And to still love it anyway—when keeping it means heavy taxation, threatened job security, and the hatred of all your friends and neighbors? I’ve never met a woman more selfless. I hope to be as strong as she is one day.

Who are your favorite heroines?
I dislike the implied sexism in this and the above question.

What is it you most dislike?

Dislike? Not hate? Or Fear? Well, I most dislike sweaty feet. There’s just a whole world of grossness associated with them.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
It embarrasses me to say it, but...I wish I were prettier. Life would just be easier if I were.

How would you like to die?
I should think that we all hope for a quick, painless death. I’m no different.

What is your present state of mind?
Spent—it’s been a rough couple of months.

What is your motto?
Mottoes are hard.

~*~

About the Book: When Ava Raine, a handicapped girl, is drafted to join the monster division in the US Army, she decides can’t handle it. But when her denial of her burgeoning abilities and her lack of control are responsible for almost killing two people the way she did to her boyfriend five years earlier, she now must accept the idea that she might not be entirely human and train alongside the monsters around her. Between honing her newfound abilities and Ava’s loosening grip on reality as the result of them, not to mention the sudden appearance of an unintentional victim from her past who wants her dead, she may not make it out alive.

Image (c) Rachel Robins
About the Author: 
Rachel Robins is a crafty one. She writes. She reads. She often meditates upon the many practical applications of unicorn byproducts in her daily life and diet. After all, they are an excellent source of sparkles. Rachel often uses her frequent crafting sessions as fodder for her writing, which comes in a variety of flavors such as urban fantasy, noir, horror, steampunk, dieselpunk, and of course, comedy. Robin Rachels is her sworn nemesis.

You Should Be Reading: Jennifer Loring

Available now from DarkFuse
and Amazon
During my time at Seton Hill University, I met a writer who would significantly shape not only my experiences at grad school, but my own writing: Jennifer Loring.

I met Jenn during my second residency at SHU when we were assigned to be critique partners for each other's thesis novels. It was one of those experiences where right at our initial meeting I felt like something special was happening.

We bonded over fairy tales.

Except Jenn and I bonded over the original stories--the twisted versions that included things like murder, torture, rape, and cannibalism, all combined with elements of the ethereal, magical, and otherworldly.

From my second term until our graduation from SHU, Jenn and I remained crit partners, friends, and confidantes. She's helped me out with my novel The Name and the Key and beyond that, she's been kind enough to blurb me on my freelancing site and has kept her eyes open for any opportunities that may come my way. I hope to someday be able to return the level of kindness and support she's given me. This post is one of many attempts to do so and if Jenn finds her way over here I hope my fangasms don't come across as too creepy.

YOU MUST READ JENNIFER LORING.


I am not speaking from a place of friendship. I'm speaking as someone who is very critical and as someone who hates to waste time on crappy writing. I will drop a book at any point in the reading if it doesn't work for me and I have no qualms with purging sellling books to get them off my shelves to keep my personal library a haven of quality.

I have a Jennifer Loring shrine in my iPad, and although I want Conduits to be the first tangible book in my physical library, I am saving that honor for Those of My Kind, Jenn's thesis novel from SHU, which will be released  March 2015 from dark fantasy publisher Omnium Gatherum!

Jenn's the type of writer who skillfully uses language that promotes cognitive dissonance, which I personally believe is one of the key definers, if not the actual purpose, of the horror genre. She can describe something as visceral and violent as being impaled, and as gruesome and detailed as she can be with it, she somehow makes it beautiful at the same time. Just when such a scene is on the verge of being unbearable, her prose elevates it and guides you to the next piece in the story.

Jenn also has such a deep awareness of mythic themes and symbols that no matter what's happening on the surface of her writing, her words are actually weaving together a deeper meaning. It feels like the hum of an electric current--it's been there and working all along, but you don't catch it until everything else is quiet.

This is exactly what's at work in her newest book, Conduits:
Mara is a Japanese-American girl with a history of personal tragedy. Though she still cuts herself to quell the pain, she thought the worst was behind her. But her boyfriend's sudden death, and a visit to one of the most haunted places in Washington State, sends her into a spiral of madness, landing her in a psychiatric ward. 
Already suffering from dreams of a strange, ghost-infested house in the woods, Mara begins to question the very existence of reality. She is forced to confront the truth about her older sister's death and the reason the ghosts have chosen her as their conduit. (Publisher's Description)
I am signal-boosting the crap out of Conduits. Yes, I'd like you to read Jenn's work in Mental Ward, Grimm and Grimmer, and her novella Beautiful Things, but there's something magical going on with Conduits:

  • She’s got a style and a strong authorial pen that makes reading this novella crackle. Whether she’s describing rain falling down a windowpane or the much darker act of deliberately cutting oneself in an effort to control the psychological pain through the physical act of bleeding, there’s a consistent beauty and elegance to her words that really appealed to me. Coupled with that is a wickedly strong story.
--Author Michael Patrick Harris in his review
  • “Conduits” is a book that is sure to keep the reader on edge throughout the story. Loring uses a lot of imagery in the book to express the confusion and fear that Mara is feeling and this also serves to keep the reader from settling into a comfort zone while reading the story. Instead, the reader always has a sense that there is something lurking around the corner, or on the next page in this case, but not knowing what that something might be other than the fact that it is sure to be something terrible. [...] While “Conduits” is a short novella, it is still a powerful story that packs a punch that will leave the reader reeling and thinking about the story days after the last page is read. 
--Josef Hernandez's review for the Minneapolis Books Examiner

I hope one day when I'm not overwhelmed with all things adjunct-related, that I may add my own detailed review of the book to the list. In the meantime, help out the author by reading the book and sharing your own review!


06 October 2014

Proust Your Protagonist with Ron Shannon

Meet British spy Christopher Weymouth
of the forthcoming adventure-suspense
novel, The Hedgerows of June.
Introducing

Christopher Weymouth

The other day I was sifting through old family memorabilia and discovered something that blew my mind. You see, the paternal side of my family all hail from Germany, and my grandfather fought in WWII before coming to the US with his wife and my dad, who was born in 1947. A lot of documentation from that time was lost during the war, but between my siblings and I, we have some of the essentials--birth records, marriage licenses, old photographs, etc.

Imagine my surprise when I found something extra dating back to WWII! I don't know how it came into my grandfather's possession; my guess was at some point when he was stationed in Paris to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier--but it looks like excerpts of a personal diary.  

As far as I know, my grandpa didn't use the journal for any ill will, like reporting its contents to his fellow officers. He and his family were fans of America long before the war started, having visited New York City just before my grandpa was drafted.  My guess is Grandpa found something sincere within Chris Weymouth's words that he could personally connect with.

Here's the mind-blowing moment I have to share with you: Weymouth's journal notes follow the French author Marcel Proust's, in that they ask a lot of the same personal questions for self-reflection. Proust wrote his journals in France in the 1890s, when such a level of introspection and sensitivity was lauded.  Self-questionnaires also became all the rage in England during the time period, and it seems Weymouth's notes are a unique connection between the past (19th and 20th centuries) and the present (21st century).  Here are his notes, unaltered.

~*~

I am Christopher Weymouth, the piano player at a small cabaret in occupied France. That is what everyone in my small village believes. In actuality I am a British spy responsible for getting bad information to the evil Nazi colonel, Landric Mueller.

What do I regard as the lowest depth of misery.
I have been undercover for so long I forget what I am doing and who I’ve become. That is until someone I know and care about is hurt because of my actions. I have suffered this kind of misery and I can tell you that I will never fully recover or find a way to wash it from my memory.

Where I want to live.
Since the beginning of this war I have dreamed of only one place, the English countryside and the estate my father left me. It is the place of childhood memories, good and bad. It’s where my father nursed a broken heart and where he raised me, an overly sensitive and capricious son. I can’t wait to go home.

My idea of earthly happiness.
Happiness can mean many different things to many different people, but the question specifically asks for my idea of happiness. I thought about having someone to love and for that person to love me. Yet, I know it’s more than that. It’s the capacity to give someone my love, whether it is romantic, friendship, or any other form. For so long I’ve had to hide whatever love I’ve been able to experience. I’ve lost the facility to love for fear of the damage it may cause. Did I ever possess the talent? I’m not sure, but to rediscover it would be my idea of earthly happiness.

What quality do I most admire in a man?
Without a doubt it is honesty. Not only in what he says, but in what he does. A man who says one thing only to do another whether from misguided obligation or duplicity is a man to fear and avoid.

In a woman.
Man or woman, the answer is the same for the same reasons. Honesty is the most admirable quality anyone can possess.

Favorite virtue.
I admire virtue, but I am often lost when discussing virtue. Patience is a problem. Yet, I am not ashamed when I become impatient. After considering the subject of virtue I must admit the one that always wins my admiration is humility. It is so easy to be proud. Is it possible, in this world of dreadful turmoil, to be humble?

Favorite occupation.
Musician. It provides for creativity and personal achievement. It offers the means to not only see the beauty in the world, but to contribute to it.

What I most value in a friend.
You don’t have to agree with a friend. In fact it is healthy to disagree and to debate. But when it comes down to it, loyalty is the most valuable aspect of any friendship. A disloyal friend is not a friend at all.

Most marked characteristic?
I hear and recognize accents. I can tell where a person is from by listening to how they enunciate certain words. I speak three different languages, but it’s the ability to recognize the accent that makes me a valuable asset in the intelligence arena.

Principle defect.
What I consider to be the greatest happiness is also my greatest fear. I fear loving another human being. It is a flaw that has developed with time and experience and it will take a serious effort to correct it.

What, to my mind, would be the greatest misfortune?
This is similar to happiness. What if I was to find that I am in love alone? What if I found the skill to love, but it turned out to be unreciprocated. This may sound terribly selfish, but I can’t help it.

What Would I Like to Be?
Yes, I would love to be a friend, a lover, but more than those, I would like to be a mentor. Such a position would be an honor, but probably the most difficult station to achieve. What an overwhelming responsibility.

My heroes in real life.
I can think of one, the American writer, Mark Twain. He perceived the world from an artist’s point of view. He found the humor in life. He also knew the tragedy of inequality, ignorance and greed. This war is the festering wound of such tragedies.

Favorite heroine.
Queen Victoria. Not a stranger to hardship, but brave. She was a true leader.

What is it I most dislike?
This damned war. The absurdity of this prolonged tragedy and the evil behind it.

Natural gift I would most like to possess.
I would most like to possess the appreciation of beauty whether in nature or mankind.

How do I want to die?
I should say something like in the service of my country, but that would not be true. I would love to die in the arms of a beautiful woman.

Present State of Mind.
I am sad, depressed, due to the loss of someone I cared about. I cannot help but think her death is my fault in some way. I am convinced I need to avenge her death, but I am not sure it is for justice or for me.

What is my motto?
This damned war. It’s a phrase I heard my mentor say, but I have taken it for my own. It is what I repeat to find the courage to keep going.

~*~

About The Hedgerows of June:  France, late June 1944. The town of Saint-Lô is an important Nazi transportation hub in occupied France and the experienced German Army is determined to defend it. An inexperienced American Army is equally determined to conquer Saint-Lô. The result is the Battle of the Hedgerows, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.

A British spy, Chris Weymouth, and an American expatriate, Mary McCorkel, meet at the home of Jean-Claire, an aging French Resistance operative. She tells Chris they have been given the responsibility to reunite four children with their fugitive parents in Saint-Lô. Chris is reluctant to take the dangerous mission, but Jean-Claire tells him he has no choice. The OSS has ordered Chris to get the children to Saint-Lô for purposes he is not permitted to discuss with Mary. Mary has her own secret reasons for making the journey.

Image (c) Ron Shannon
To get to Saint-Lô they must cross the treacherous French farmland known as the Bocage, or hedgerows, and what will soon be the battlefield. While staying one step ahead of the attacking Americans and dodging the defending Germans Chris and Mary discover their lives are threatened not only by the war, but also by the secrets and deceptions they are sworn to protect. 

Available October 18th at Amazon and Barnes and Noble! 

About the author: Ron Shannon discovered his passion for storytelling at a very young age: while listening to his teacher read the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol to the overly-excited members of his sixth grade class. He studied at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey and graduated with the unlikely degree combination of accounting and English. Recently he completed his Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Ron lives, daydreams, and writes at the New Jersey shore.


04 October 2014

Writing Fantasy is like Writing Horror: You Can't Walk Away from the Dark.

Evil Looms and Good Approaches.
 By amdandy. Licensed from iStock.
Stephen King wrote that we crave horror movies because the genre is "innately conservative; even reactionary. [...]"
It is true that the mythic 'fairy-tale' horror [...] intends to take away the shades of gray [...] It urges us to put away our more civilized and adult penchant for analysis and to become children again, seeing things in pure blacks and whites.
I appreciate that King throws out the reference to fairy tales in his quote, because it helps cement my belief that the horror and fantasy genres have always been closely related to each other. That's why I think I can claim fantasy, in its own way, shares a lot of the traditional morality that tends to crop up in horror--namely that good will prevail and evil will be punished. (It's usually how those punishments are doled out that determine the genre.)

Ever since I was little I always hoped that justice would be served for those who suffer and those who inflict suffering. Justice happens in fairy tales, and reading fairy tales led me to write fantasy. And I have to admit, a degree of fairy-tale morality has trickled into how I structure the plot of my stories. But I draw the line at how I create my characters.

In fairy tales, it's very clear as to who is evil and who isn't. There's no mystery about it; the Wicked Stepsisters and Evil Queen are just what their names suggest. And even if these characters get away with being evil for the duration of the story, a final, horrible justice compensates for that. In Cinderella, the Wicked Stepsisters have their eyes plucked out by doves. In Snow White, the Evil Queen is forced to dance to death in hot iron shoes.

My series, Worldwalker Tales, does contain various influences from fairy tales; namely the Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (ahem, the original) version of Beauty and the Beast. I'm working the Beast's background from the de Villeneuve tale into The Step and the Walk, the novel that focuses on the character Andresh Camomescro from The Name and the Key. 

From the very beginning I knew de Villeneuve had a darker origin story for the Beast, including the nature of his curse. To oversimplify the plot: for his own protection, an infant Prince is raised by a Fairy in an enchanted forest. When the Prince grows into a handsome young man, the Fairy decides she doesn't want to be his mother anymore, but his lover. The Prince rebuffs her sexual advances and as a punishment, she turns him into the Beast.

Part of the reason why this version of Beauty and the Beast appeals to me is that there isn't a black-and-white morality tale here. Unlike the more popular versions of the tale (which we now default to as the Disney version), the Prince does nothing to deserve his punishment. And if I remember correctly, the Fairy isn't given the kind of justice we see in such stories. The Fairy fades into the background, and to be honest, she's disappeared from my memory altogether while the traditional plot of Beauty and the Beast picks up from there.

In Worldwalker Tales, Andresh is my Prince/Beast character. The Step and the Walk serves as his origin story, and it is dark. And I did want it to have some semblance of de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast.  Instead of an enchanted castle in an enchanted forest, Andresh is confined to the caverns inside of a mountain. Instead of a Fairy, Andresh meets Narjineyah (whom he calls Nara), a woman who is nowhere near what she seems to be. Nara does mentor Andresh, and what starts out as a relationship between a teacher and her pupil becomes something cruel. And following the de Villeneuve tradition, Andresh is unjustly punished for his relationship with Nara.

The Puppeteer by Denis Zorkin.
Licensed from Dollar Photo Club.
I always knew the plot of Worldwalker Tales would take a disturbing detour during The Step and the Walk. I knew I would have to "go there" and I wanted to arm myself as much as possible for the journey. Doing research on a topic like this certainly wore me down. After reading case studies, first-person accounts, news reports, and works of fiction that address the issue, I felt like I might've gone off the deep end for trying to remotely understand why human beings are so good at hurting each other.

And then I was scared to write.

In horror, you take readers down a dark journey, and there is no promise of a return. Justice may be served, but justice does not equal a happy ending. Horror is not a genre of happy endings, anyway, as Stephen King has said: "Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win."

With fantasy, the expectation is that although there may be twists and turns that plunge readers into darkness, ultimately, there will be a return: a resolution that is happy or, at the very least, fulfilling.

I think I'm asking a lot of my readers. I'm taking a character they love and I'm throwing every twisted thing I can at him to see if he will bend or break. If my fiction can capture any shade of the realities from my research, readers are going to be disgusted. Maybe it will trigger something horrible for them. Maybe they will bend and break just as Andresh bends and breaks, but in doing so, they know  the suffering is temporary because something far more fulfilling will come along to make up for that pain.  Justice tends to offer such fulfillment, but what if I deny it?  How do  I bring readers back from the brink?

I don't have easy answers for this. But if I think of de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast, I might have an idea. There is no Hammurabi Code-level of justice in her fairy tale. Resolution came simply because her characters--Belle and La Bête--kept moving forward into a different story altogether: their own.

If I bear this in mind, I should be able to fulfill the requisites of my genre. When things seem especially bleak, there will be hope for the reader that the darkness of the journey will end with reward.

Writing is never a small feat.