Interview with Stephanie M. Wytovich

HeadshotStephanie M. Wytovich is a technical writer by day and a horror writer by night. Recently it has been announced that she is joining the team of editors at Crystal Lake Publishing to assist with their mentoring program, with a specialization in poetry and short fiction. She is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University, and a book reviewer for Nameless Magazine. 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-nominated poetry collections, Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, and Brothel earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press, and her debut novel, The Eighth, is simmering in sin with Dark Regions Press. Follow Wytovich at and on twitter @JustAfterSunset​.

I first came to know your work through your poetry. You have also written a novel titled The Eighth, are an academic and you work as the poetry editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press. Which role comes to you most naturally, and which do you prefer (as those may not be the same)?

Most naturally? Definitely poetry—it’s no contest. I’ve always been drawn to poetry and it’s my favorite thing to read, write, and experience. I love writing fiction, but even my prose as a poetic flair to it, so even when I try to walk away from the form, it still sneaks up and leaves its mark.

Editing is wonderful and I thoroughly enjoy it, but teaching is my preferred role. I’ve been blessed with a handful of truly life-changing professors and mentors in my academic life, and without them, I don’t think that I would have had the drive or the skill sets necessary to go after my dreams. If I can return the favor and do the same thing for someone else, I’ll consider myself successful.

 You have signed a deal with DarkFuse to produce a series entitled Inside the Skin Bouquet. Can you tell us about that and the experience of writing something for serial release?

inside_the_skin_bouquet-sInside the Skin Bouquet is a collection of stories that meditate on a variety of obsessions with human flesh: the need to touch it, the desire to collect it, reconstruct it, wear it, eat it. If I were to compare the inspiration and thematic qualities behind this collection to classic and/or contemporary works, I would say this collection is what happens when Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) meets Norman Bates (Robert Bloch’s Psycho) at a dinner party hosted by Hannibal Lecter (Thomas Harris’s The Hannibal Lecter Trilogy). These stories will pain as much as they will pleasure, forever seesawing between the erotic and the frightfully sadistic. The foreplay is fixation, an inherent psychological and physical need to be surrounded by flesh, but the climax is one of consumption, an intense fetish turned pure passion.

Working on the series has been a lot of fun because it keeps my mind in a delicately dark space, and it forces me to think outside of the box with a theme that I’m constantly carving into.  My first story, “Dear Adelaide, I Want to Eat You” will debut in March and it’s a very Hannibal-esque, Stockholm Syndrome piece.

I think readers will enjoy it.

And then hate themselves because of it.

Your writing is extremely vivid and visceral. Do you have a routine or ritual to get you in the mood for writing or can you do it anywhere?

Awe, why thank you! I tend to be a very visual person, so I think that’s where my love of imagery and sensory circumstance comes from. But when it comes time for me to write, it’s always at my desk whether that’s at home (which I prefer) or at work (which I hate, but I’ve had to train myself to be okay with it). I make playlists for whatever I’m working on, so that is a huge help for me when it comes to setting the tone or mood of a piece, and I’ve also been known to make vision boards in real time and on Pinterest. Essentially, I’ll make of thematic collage that goes along with what I’m working on, and that usually gets the juices flowing.

Are you a plotter or panster?

I’ve become better at plotting, but I still think that I’m going to be a pantser for life. Even if I make an outline, I always end up changing things. I like to think that my freewriting sessions are me outlining, but they typically end up being poems, so I think I just vomit on the page in an orderly fashion and go from there.

However, to completely contradict that, I do have a process that is pretty special to me that I oftentimes don’t deviate from. When I’m working on a poetry collection, I write five titles to each letter of the alphabet, and then once I have everything laid out, I’ll start working on the poems. It’s kind of a reverse outline, which very well may be cheating, but it helps me layout the arc in my head and then organize the pieces in such a way where there is a new balance between literary and speculative.

Basically, I’m just a mess.

From your point of view as an editor, what advice would you give about the submission process?

Follow the rules in the submission guidelines.

Address the editor personally.

If it says they are closed to submissions, they really mean it; it’s not a lie.

Query if you have questions.

This is WiHM and I was wondering what you think about the current presence of women within the genre? Do you think that women have a realized voice in horror?

The EighthI think the atmosphere is definitely changing and that people are reading more women for sure, but do I think we have a long way to go? Absolutely, and here’s why. When I was at AWP last week in Washington D.C., I had a gentleman (and that’s being nice) come up to me and rant about the fact that I wasn’t publishing war stories. He nicely (insert sarcastic voice here) told me that all anyone cares about reading today is stuff by women, and if he would have known that was the case, he would have just had a sex operation before he came to the conference in order to get published.

Now, I think someone missed the air of the publishing industry for let’s see, I don’t know, FOREVER? But what really frustrates me about this the most, is the entitlement aspect of it. Because someone other than a white male was getting attention, he perceived that to be a direct attack against him. To me, that’s a problem and that’s sexism and it’s worth discussing in regards to the industry.

Who or what inspired you to write?

I started writing at the request of a therapiast, so I guess my dark mind as realistically always been the influence and Kickstarter to my writing. However, if I was going to pick specifics artists? Well, it would depend on the project.

The Eighth: Clive Barker (Mister B. Gone), John Milton (Paradise Lost), Dante Alighieri (Inferno)

Brothel: Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski

An Exorcism of Angels: Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, W. B. Yeats

Mourning Jewelry: Charles Baudelaire

Hysteria: Edgar Allan Poe

What authors are you into at the moment?

Presently, I’ve been reading Kim Addonizio for poetry and a variety of essays by Roxanne Gay.

What else are working on in 2017?

Inside the Skin Bouquet will take up some time for me in 2017, but I’m also working on a poetry collection sporadically, as well as another larger fiction project. My goals for this year were to try to write more literary-infused speculative poetry (HA! What even is that?) as well as finish some of the short stories I’ve had marinating in the corner for a while.

BrothelAside from writing, what other interests do you have?

I like being around art a lot, so museums, theatre, and music are steady contributors to a happy Stephanie. I also have a Pit bull (Apollo) and an English Bulldog (Edgar Allan) who keep me pretty busy and active, so being outside and talking walks and getting exercise is high on my list, too.

My boyfriend and I also love to travel so we’re usually out and about doing something. We have a New Orleans trip planned for this year, so I’ll be excited to be surrounded by voodoo and the Mississippi air for a bit.

What is the best way for readers to keep up to date with you?

Readers can find me on Goodreads and Facebook (Stephanie M. Wytovich) and on Twitter (@JustAfterSunset). I also blog regularly at and my website is always up to date with appearances, new releases, etc.



Online Chat with Gary Fry

In cool mid-autumn, 2013, a few weeks shy of Halloween, two horror scribes – one English, the other from Northern Ireland – got together in a dusty corner of the world wide web and, over a virtual barrel of mead, had a bit of a chat about all things dark and spooky. Here is the troubling transcript…


Gary Fry: Hi there. I understand that we’ll soon be stable mates –that is, US horror imprint DarkFuse will, in November, publish a pair of novellas, one by you and the other by me. Let me tell  a bit about mine. It’s called Lurker and is one of a sequence of long stories I’ve been writing over the last few years set on the north-east coast of England, where I live in Dracula’s Whitby. My model is Lovecraft’s great creature-features – suggestive, powerful, evoking cosmic disorder. I love this stuff and want to carve out a name for myself as a modern purveyor of such awe. But I like other horror, too, including gory stuff (such as my forthcoming DF zombie novel Severed), the creeping thriller (my novella Menace) and also the ghostly (a rerelease of my novel The House of Canted Steps). Now, I’ve read a synopsis of your novella Shattered and it sounds more like the latter to me – ghostly. Am I right about that…or not?

C S Kane: Haha, good question, Gary. I think it is a psychological horror with the threatening element of the supernatural world never far away from the mind of the protagonist Stacey Sheldon. I conceived the story by deciding it would be interesting to explore how a skeptic would cope if they started to see visions. The question as to whether or not the experiences are real or a figment of Stacey’s imagination drives the action throughout and is really the heartbeat of the tale. I am a huge fan of Poe and would definitely say that I like horror that creeps into the subconscious. You mention your love of Lovecraft and I was wondering if Lovecraft was your way into the world of horror or did you find yourself here through some other macabre means?

Gary Fry: I got into horror in the usual way for someone of my generation: movies and Stephen King. I was a really frightened child and avoided watching horror until my age was in double figures. I recall being terrified of a TV show called The Boy from Space as a boy, while all my schoolmates seemed blasé about it. I think that might be true of a lot of horror fans – they’re not the ones who generate fear; they’re the ones who suffer it! Anyway, once I’d got over my twitchiness with a few years under my belt, I started watching Poltergeist, The Shining, The Twilight Zone, etc…and frankly had a ball. I loved them all. Then, having started reading fiction in my teens, I turned to the most prevalent horrorists of all back then: Stephen King (as if it’s anything different now, eh?). And I devoured all his books inside of a few years. After that, it was further exploration of the literature: the classics, including Lovecraft, and modern masters like Michael McDowell, TED Klein, and – significantly in my case – Ramsey Campbell. Campbell was found to be my spiritual centre of gravity, a lapsed Catholic (like my own family) from the north of England who was truly exploring the darkest recesses of an uncertain psyche. It all became very serious then… So, after that brief tour of my baptism of fire, how about you – what were your first horror encounters?

C S Kane: Well, as soon I could understand my mum’s singing, I knew what horror was. I’m not being mean, by the way! My mum has a great voice but we come from a family of folk that sing murder ballads and tell terrifying ghost stories at bedtime. I suppose it is the Celtic blood. There is a strong oral tradition of passing on cautionary tales and hearing lyrics like: “She stuck the knife in the baby’s heart” at such a young age pretty much guaranteed that I had a healthy fear of strangers. I was daubed Morticia at quite a young age. Always very serious and mainly dressed in black. I remember vividly my Aunty let me – no, actually more like made me – watch A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was about eight. It scared the life out of me but I loved it at the same time. My dad let us watch Poltergeist and things like that at Halloween. In fact it was like a tradition to go and get the videos, tons of sweets and then gorge and scream at the creepy movies. I was lucky in school that I got to read Dracula, Frankenstein and other classics. There were always some worn copies from the King oeuvre knocking about the house. I think the kind of stories captured my imagination the most were shorter and novella length works. I think there can be such a strong impact with pieces that length. ‘The Black Cat’ by Poe freaked me out for quite a while as a youngster. I guess that the passion for the thrills that fear can bring has always been there, along with a dark imagination… Speaking of various sizes of works, do you have a preferred length to write? Do you find it easier to write a novella than a novel or vice versa?

Gary Fry: First, let me say that’s a fascinating background you have. It’s funny how horror can get to people in different ways. I mean, in my case, there was no horror in my life until late childhood (not media horror anyway), whereas in yours, there’s tons of it. Interesting stuff… Anyway, novels or novellas? Well, I kind of like both, but have to admit that I find novellas easier to write, largely because I can sustain that white-heat period of inspiration right the way through the first draft. Novels are trickier beasts, and require stubborn discipline to get you over those tricky spells when it all seems lifeless and vague. Also, in a novel, you have to hold so many things in your head at the same time – which character likes what, who has said what to which person, etc – that I find their composition irritating and cannot rest until I’ve nailed down all the elements. I often find myself avoiding thinking about a novel when I’m away from a notebook or laptop, because I may have a great idea I’ll probably forget before I get chance to jot it down. Short stories, however, are easy now. I’ve written over a hundred and feel as if I can tackle them without too much duress. It’s ironic, however, that I now feel as if the ideas that inform shorts are in fewer supply, and that my thoughts tend more naturally towards longer fiction. But that’s good, because it seems to be what’s more marketable, and to be honest, the novel is inherently more satisfying to achieve and offers you the capacity to truly grip someone – my literary raison d’etre – for a sustained period… Well, that’s me. How about you – longer or shorter tales? Not just for writing, but reading, too?

C S Kane: In terms of reading, there a special place in my heart for shorter stories. I think some of the best examples of great literature fall into this category – in particular, Orwell’s Animal Farm, Wells’ The Time Machine, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Joyce’s The Dead, among many more. These aren’t really horror examples but I have certainly found terrifying instances in each… Writing-wise, Shattered is my debut novella and I have to say I didn’t find it easy to write at all! It took me a while but I definitely think it was a story that I had to write. However, since I finished it, I have found loads of ideas bursting from the darkest recesses of my brain and find I can create longer pieces more readily. No matter what I am working on, whether novella or novel, I try to keep it concise. I think I’m a pared-down writer but aim to leave a lingering (and hopefully horrifying) impression at the same time. The way this works, in my mind, is to create memorable characters. They drive the story, the length, the structure, everything really. It is their story and not mine, after all… What is your central focus when writing? Some people plot extensively and stay really strict about it – do you?

Gary Fry: I am a plotter. I was drawn to that kind of fiction as a lad. I like a good story you could probably extract from the telling and even the characters and still make enjoyable. Which is not to say characters are not important for me. I like to develop a nice range of folk, whoever comes naturally to me. These tend to be thinking folk who like quiet and books; loners cast slightly adrift from mainstream life; and – alarmingly enough – truly monstrous men with extremely negative attitudes. My character Stephen Hobbs, the star of my forthcoming novel Severed, ticks all these boxes and is probably an exaggerated version of myself in many ways. I suppose we all write by instinct, and these people are who come easiest to me. In fact, more recently, I’ve solved a difficulty I’ve had in my writing over the years. For a long time, I wondered why I easily finished some tales and struggled with others. Was it something to do with the telling, the plot points, etc? No, it turns out that the stories that effectively write themselves are those starring characters with whom I empathise deeply and whom I understand from the inside-out. I think that’s worth taking a note of if you’re starting out as a writer – don’t only write about what you know, write about the people you know well, especially yourself and folk of similar sensibilities. These fictions tend to have more life, more verisimilitude. At least that’s my experience… OK, we’ve been talking a bit about literary matters for a while now; let’s shift the focus somewhat. Tell me, your three favourite books and why; your three favourite films and why; and your three favourite places in the world and why. Shoot!

C S Kane: All right, let me see. 1984 by George Orwell totally blew me away. I was about nineteen when I read it and it just made me view the world in a different way. I also found the latter part of the book utterly gripping and completely harrowing. My copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination is well worn and well loved. Poe was just a master of suspense and I always get a shiver after delving into the different stories contained in that book. Finally, my favourite book is A Christmas Carol by Dickens. There are terrifying elements, supernatural forces and of course the chance of redemption. I have to read it every festive season… My three favourite films…hmm…that is a tricky one as I am movie mad! I would probably say Raiders of the Lost Ark because again there is that supernatural aspect, adventure and Indiana himself. Rear Window is great. I love James Stewart and obviously Alfred Hitchcock knew how to create some serious suspense. I also find his movies really and truly frightening. The third movie would have to be John Carpenter’s Halloween. It isn’t October without it and this was the first horror movie I ever watched. I also have to give honorable mention here to The Shawshank Redemption as I love it as much the others listed and just can’t leave it out… Finally, the three places are easy. New York was one of the destinations on my honeymoon and I loved it. It is just a really interesting, vibrant and creative place. Paris is probably my favourite city in the world. I love the history, the people, the architecture, the arts scene, the food… I could go on for a while here. Lastly, there is no place like home. Sounds cheesy but I like nothing better than chilling out at home with the family, reading, writing or watching something like Only Fools and Horses with a nice roast dinner cooking. You?

Gary Fry: Great choices. I love Vertigo, especially. Probably one of my favourites, too. As for other films, I also like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is kind of weird, because I’m not really a science fiction fan. But Kubrick had a way of viewing the world – simultaneously beautiful and yet utterly haunted – that this film has a great impact on me. The same is true of The Shining, another favourite, perhaps for unsurprising reasons. I like so many others – Last King of Scotland, Room at the Top, Misery, Twelve Angry Men, Sunset Boulevard, to name just a bunch – that it seems crued to reduce it to just more, but since I asked the question, I guess I’ll go for Room at the Top, a real heartbreaker from olde England, with all its rigid class system in full force. Wonderful film (based on a John Braine novel, a woefully underappreciated writer)… And so, to books: that’s easier. My choices are:


  • Money by Martin Amis: corrosive, hilarious, powerful, profound and troubling.Gary Fry: Great choices. I love Vertigo, especially. Probably one of my favourites, too. As for other films, I also like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is kind of weird, because I’m not really a science fiction fan. But Kubrick had a way of viewing the world – simultaneously beautiful and yet utterly haunted – that this film has a great impact on me. The same is true of The Shining, another favourite, perhaps for unsurprising reasons. I like so many others – Last King of Scotland, Room at the Top, Misery, Twelve Angry Men, Sunset Boulevard, to name just a bunch – that it seems cruede to reduce it to just more, but since I asked the question, I guess I’ll go for Room at the Top, a real heartbreaker from olde England, with all its rigid class system in full force. Wonderful film (based on a John Braine novel, a woefully underappreciated writer)… And so, to books: that’s easier. My choices are:
  • Misery by Stephen King: the perfect horror novel, terrifying and gripping.
  • Midnight Sun by Ramsey Campbell: beautiful, resonant, poetic and frightening.

I envy anyone who’s yet to read any of those books, let alone the authors’ other peerless work. My unholy trinity of major literary influences… As for places, well, I love three: Seville in southern Spain, for being a brilliantly gaudy mess of a place, full of madness in the form of architecture (hell, have you seen its cathedral?) and idiotically high palm trees. Vienna for its majestic elegance and the fact that I recently visited the cramped flat in which Beethoven wrote his fifth symphony (da-da-da-daaa!). And finally, my home town of Whitby, North Yorkshire, for its constant influence on me as a writer, providing some great settings, and for its elegiac peacefulness, out here on the ancient coast. Wonderful… OK, we’ve talked quite a bit now, and I think it’s probably a good idea to finish with a simple question: how did you first come across DarkFuse and what led to the acceptance of your novella Shattered? Let me briefly recount my DF history. I’d heard of Delirium of course, but always felt it catered mainly for US writers and that a Brit would have little chance of submitting successfully. So for years I stuck to UK presses – PS Publishing, Spectral Press, etc – and had some success there. But now I was hungry for a wider readership, and the US is surely where that’s at. So, browsing around online one day, I chanced upon an outfit called DarkFuse and had to admit I’d never heard of them. But as I dug deeper, I saw similar admirable names – Ronald Malfi, Jeff Strand, Greg Gifune, et al – associated with them on a long-term basis. Then the penny dropped. And I was only slightly excited to realize that they were open to submissions. Now, it just so happened that I’d been in a writing frenzy around that time and had a completed draft of Lurker (then called The Undermined) ready to go. And so off it went, out across the mighty water. I was delighted when Dave Thomas got back to me a week or so later with an offer, including Book Club promotion, limited hardcover and ebook. I hadn’t expected any of that. And then, encouraged by my success, I submitted a novel I had ready called God’s Eye View (released recently by DF as Conjure House – they’re better at titles than I am!) and Greg Gifune got in touch about a month later (novels taking longer to review) and made me the same offer. More books followed, each of which was bought by the guys, and when the head honcho Shane Staley made me an offer of a nine-book deal (yes, nine) I snapped it up. This company, I feel, is really going places, and I for one want to be there alongside it as it climbs higher and higher… So, forgiving my initiative, now it’s your turn?


C S Kane: Wow, great choices too, Gary! I came across DarkFuse on Twitter. I had a look, like yourself, and saw these great names coming up and thought that this was obviously a team with a real passion for horror. Then I thought about my manuscript. You see, I had started to write Shattered years ago but I had never showed it to anyone, much less thought about sending it to a publisher. However, at the time I came across DarkFuse I was recovering from a serious illness and thanks to that I was out of work, so I bit the bullet and with nothing to lose I fired it at novella editor Dave Thomas. Thankfully, it was accepted and is about to be shared with a lot more people! It’s funny the way things turn out but I have to say I’m so glad I took that step. I totally agree with you about the company. The DarkFuse crew are sharp and, as I already mentioned, they have a real passion for what they do. You can’t ask for better than that.

Gary Fry: Totally agree! Anyway, I guess that’s us all talked out now. It’s been fun chatting. I look forward to reading your novella Shattered later this month

C S Kane: And I look forward to Lurker, too. Great to chat!

 Please click on the book covers for more details on each title.