Poet Spotlight: Stephanie M. Wytovich on staring down your demons

In honor of Women in Horror Month — which celebrates women working in the field of horror writing, film, art, etc. — I am pleased to spotlight Stephanie M. Wytovich.

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist, working primarily in the horror genre. She is the author of five poetry collections, including the Bram Stoker Award-winning, Brothel (Raw Dog Screaming Press) and her most recent collection, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare (Raw Dog Screaming Press). Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

She is the poetry editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. 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.

Follow Wytovich on twitter @SWytovich.

Sheet Music to My Acoustic NightmareYour most recent collection of poetry is Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare. Tell us about this collection and how it came into being.

Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare is a collection that was inspired by heavy doses of bad decision making, traveling down lonely roads, sleeping in the back seat of my car, and drinking too much whiskey after the bars closed. I’ve done a lot of growing up and calming down over the past three years, and after intense periods of self-care and therapy, I felt ready to stare down my demons and write about them in a way that was more autobiographical than what I usually do. Sure, there are still elements of horror and dark fantasy interspersed throughout, but this one is more about me and the trauma that I carry.

In an interview with Speculative Chic, you described this collection as a “confessional dirge,” inspired by your travels on the road. Can you share a bit about how your journeys traversing map lines and your journey as a writer prepared you for writing this book?

When I travel, I learn things about myself, things that I might not have known or recognized in myself before. For me, regardless of where I’m going, whether it be Ireland, New Orleans, or Los Angeles, I feel connected to myself in a more intimate way because the pressure of everyday living is off and I’m free to be my purest, uncensored version because there are no expectations for who I am, what I do, or why I’m there in that specific place. I love to journal when I’m out and about, and I take pictures and keep mementos for my travels to remind me of certain feelings, smells, sights, etc. I’ll also write down snippets of conversations that I hear at coffee shops and cafes, and I’ll take tours and learn about the city that I’m in and think about why I was drawn to it in the first place.

When I was writing this book, specifically, I went through a lot of my journals (whether handwritten or videotaped), and I relived a lot of those moments, but with a clearer head and a less jaded heart. Some of the topics and moments that I wrote about I’ve never discussed with anyone before, so it felt good to purge some of that out and be honest and transparent about issues I’ve faced with sexuality, gender, and mental illness.

It Many of these poems deal with experiences that can be difficult to talk about (drugs, abuse, suicide)? How do approach such themes? Do you find it difficult to address such subjects or is the act of writing cathartic?

When I first started writing poetry, I danced around these issues a lot, but I’ve become more comfortable talking (and writing!) about them head on. For me, it’s absolutely cathartic and for so many reasons, I think it’s safe to say that I’ll always be writing poetry in some capacity

What draws you to writing horror? In what ways has the horror genre enlivened your work and your life?

To me, the horror genre is all about survival and strength, which is why I feel drawn to it. I enjoy writing in a genre that doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that monsters (both real and imagined) exist, and I like to take the opportunity to teach my readers (sometimes through personal example) how to face down their demons and win. Aesthetically, I’ve always enjoyed art forms that focus on darkness and the healing properties that are associated with it, so my eye for the strange and unusual has been leaning towards romanticism and surrealism for as long as I can remember. I’m a big fan of the beautiful grotesque and I try to use that as a staple in my work as much as possible.

As a poet who also writes fiction. Do you find it difficult to transition from poetry to prose? In what ways do you find writing fiction to be different from writing poetry? Do you think being a poet influences how you approach writing fiction?

While I’ve always written poetry, fiction has always been my focus; I’m just slow when it comes to writing it. I have my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and at first it was difficult to transition from poetry to fiction, but now I find it both challenging (in a good sense) and rewarding. Like most things in life, it takes time to find your rhythm.

However, my poetic flair for language definitely influences my writing style as a fiction writer, both in the way that I write and how I build my worlds and scenes. I tend to be more visual and visceral in my imagery, and the emotional depth of my characters and how they feel and react to situations beats with the heart of a poet, without doubt.

As the author of five books of poetry and one novel, what advice can you give other poets about putting together a collection?

My suggestion is to write the poems/stories that you want to write — that you need to write — and not to be afraid to get your hands dirty. The trick to poetry is to take off your mask and be vulnerable, so don’t be afraid to show your scars. They’re all beautiful in their own ways.

What are you currently reading?

Right now, I’m reading (and revisiting) a lot of work for the classes I’m teaching this semester, but next to me I have The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Frankenstein’s, and the Creation of Mary Shelley’s Masterpiece by Roseanne Montillo and The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler.

Name a poet more readers should know about.

Zachary Schomburg. I love his work. Black Ocean Press puts out a ton of great material and I usually get their book bundles every year for Christmas.

Do you feel community is important as a writer? How do you stay connected?

Very much so. Writing is often times such a solitary career that it feels good to be connected and have people who are interested in your work, but who also care about you as a person. I’m an active member of the Horror Writer’s Association, as well as the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and it feels good to see what my peers and colleagues are working on, talking about, and participating it. It makes the blank page feel a lot less lonely.

What can the world expect from you in the future?

I’m usually juggling multiple projects at once, and I have an apocalyptic science fiction collection that I’m about a third of the way through, and I’m also working on a short story collection titled, Inside the Skin Bouquet. Right now, I’m currently shopping around a literary poetry collection to a few presses, and I’ll be included in three anthologies this year: Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey & Sylvia Plath (Clash Books), Fantastic Tales of Terror (Crystal Lake Publishing), and Tales from the Lake, V (Crystal Lake Publishing).