Stephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her work has been showcased in numerous anthologies such as Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Shadows Over Main Street: An Anthology of Small-Town Lovecraftian Terror, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 2, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 8, as well as many others.
Wytovich 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. Her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, and Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare. Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.
LOHF: How old were you when you wrote your first story? What was it about?
I became obsessed with vampires at a pretty young age—probably too young, now that I look back on it—but when I got to middle school, I wrote my first vampire story, which was a piece about a traveling vampire clan who slaughtered a young girl’s family. My teachers thought it was way too dark, and I got sent to the guidance counselor for a chat. After that, I wrote dark paranormal romance stories with vamps and other monsters in them to keep me out of trouble. In fact, I still have a copy of one of my earlier stories, and it’s titled “With This Kiss,” and yes, it’s about as cliché and emo as it sounds!
LOHF: What got you hooked on horror?
For me, this is a who rather than a what. My mother is a huge horror fan, and Halloween has always been our Christmas in the Wytovich household. Pretty much everything was scary or spooky for me from day one, from the I, Spy books I read, to the games we played, to the bedtime stories my parents came up with at night, so in a lot of ways, I didn’t really have a chance, ha! I do remember watching Salem’s Lot and Interview with a Vampire fairly young though, and they obviously left quite the impression on me. In fact, I slept with my blankets tight against my neck for longer than I care to admit.
LOHF: What kind of writer are you? The type the plots everything out ahead of time, the type that lets the story go as it goes, or something else?
This has kind of changed for me over the years because when I first started out, I hated outlining my work, and to an extent, I still kind of do. If I had pick, I would say I’m somewhere in the middle now. I have a general idea of where I’m starting and where I want to end up, but most of the time, I’m going on the journey with my characters. Where this starts to become a lie is when we’re talking about novels. I heavily outlined The Eighth, and I’m still using my notes and a pretty extensive outline to write its sequel.
LOHF: You have had a lot of pieces featured in anthologies. How do you find out about the open calls? Has anyone came specifically to you asking for a submission yet?
For most of these, I was lucky enough to have editors reach out to me with a particular story/theme in mind. When that wasn’t/isn’t the case though, I usually find out about submissions through social media—I follow all my favorite presses and dream journals/magazines—or through DarkMarkets.com.
LOHF: What is it like knowing in books like Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities, and Undefinable Wonders, your work is right there with some of horror’s biggest names?
It’s very surreal, to be honest. Sometimes I still can’t really believe it happened. Needless to say, it’s a beautiful honor and it inspires me every day to keep working and improving on my art.
LOHF: You have five poetry collections that have been published. Obviously, each of them is special to you, but do you have one that you are particularly proud of? Why/Why not?
Oh! This is a hard one, and I feel like I give a different answer every time someone asks me this, ha. For me, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare was a big step because it wove together memoir and horror. As you can imagine, a lot of the poems in there are very personal and tragic, and even now as I’m in the midst of recording the audiobook for it, I’m finding it difficult to revisit some of those memories and pieces.
Having said that, Hysteria: A Collection of Madness and Brothel are up there for me, too, because the research that I did for Hysteria—all those nights sleeping in asylums and abandoned hospitals—was unforgettable, and then Brothel was the book I always wanted to write but the one that everyone told me not to. I don’t usually follow directions well, and in this case, I’m glad I didn’t because it brought me home the Stoker while simultaneously showing genre readers that strong female characters do exist in the horror genre.
LOHF: Recently there was a bit of stupid fussing in the horror community regarding what types of horror we should all like. But there are no prizes given for reading the most disgusting works, and not everyone likes the same type of horror., what are your favorite types of horror as a reader?
Honestly, I’m kind of all over the place with the type of horror I like to read. I love body horror and erotic horror—Clive Barker is one of my favorites writers—but I also live for psychological horror, too, but like I said, I’m not picky. If you can scare me, I’m in.
LOHF: Are there any horror tropes you refuse to write about in your work?
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t tackle, per say, but how I go about writing something might differ depending on the topic, for example something in regard to animal violence. I have a huge heart for animals, specifically for dogs, so there won’t a whole lot of graphic violence in that respect, and honestly, I really do try to avoid it at all costs.
LOHF: Your debut novel, The Eighth, is close to having its two-year publishing birthday. Congratulations there! Always, the main character in your book is Paimon. This is a demon that I first heard in a recently released movie. Before that, I’d never heard of him. How did you first learn of Paimon?
Thank you! It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since I’ve sent Paimon out into the world.
Him and I first ran into each other when I was in graduate school reading about demons, you know, as one does. Specifically, I needed a demon who was obedient to Lucifer, but also highly ranked and even king-like. When I stumbled upon him, I knew he was perfect for the journey I wanted to send this character on, and I’ll be exited to see what readers think when they catch up with him again in book 2.
LOHF: Tell us a bit about your WIP, please!
As usual, I have a couple irons in the fire. I’m finishing up my next poetry collection, an apocalyptic science fiction book titled, The Apocalyptic Mannequin. I’m also putting out a weird, horror novelette this Fall titled, The Dangers of Surviving a Split Throat. As those projects wrap up, I’ll be strictly focusing on getting back into the sequel to The Eighth.
LOHF: What is the best horror movie you’ve seen in the past couple of years?
Ah, the hardest question of the bunch! Over the past years, I’ve really been a massive A24 films fan, and my top choice last year was The Killing of a Sacred Deer. I’ve also really enjoyed A Ghost Story, Mother, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, and The Witch.
LOHF: What book by a female horror author do you feel needs to be adapted immediately?
I would love to see Angela Carter or Charlotte Perkins Gilman get an adaptation, or a contemporary one at that. I think their stories are so frightfully tarrying that I would love to watch them play out on screen. Novel wise though, I’m rooting for Caroline Kepnes. I know that You is being adapted into a Netflix series, but I think Providence would play out great on film, too.
LOHF: Who are some up-and-coming ladies of horror fiction that we should be on the lookout for?
There are so many talented women working in the horror genre right now, and a few who I think everyone should be reading are: Christa Carmen (Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked), Cynthia Pelayo (Poems of My Night), Gwendolyn Kiste (Rust Maidens), and Zoje Stage (Baby Teeth).
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?
Wytovich plays madam in a collection of erotic horror that challenges the philosophical connection between death and orgasm. There’s a striptease that happens in Brothel that is neither fact nor fiction, fantasy nor memory. It is a dance of eroticism, of death and decay. The human body becomes a service station for pain, for pleasure, for the lonely, the confused. Sexuality is hung on the door, and the act of love is far from anything that’s decent. Her women spread their legs to violence then smoke a cigarette and get on all fours. They use their bodies as weapons and learn to find themselves in the climax of the boundaries they cross in order to define their humanity…or lack thereof.
Wytovich shows us that the definition of the feminine is not associated with the word victim. Her characters resurrect themselves over and over again, fighting stereotypes, killing expectations. She shows us that sex isn’t about love; it’s about control. And when the control is disproportionate to the fantasy, she shows us the true meaning of femme fatale.
An Exorcism of Angels
Heaven and Hell are not places, nor times, but rather shared experiences. It’s a love whether dark or light, a passion whether of pleasure or pain, and there’s a beauty to the ugliness, a smile hidden amongst the tears. Heaven is often defined as paradise; Hell as damnation. The two, while opposites, more often than not, end up being one in the same, especially when it comes to falling in love.
So what happens when our Heaven falls in love with our Hell? When the very person who brings us every happiness and every joy, stabs and beats at our hearts, bruising our fantasy of “happily ever after”? What happens when we can’t walk away because the pain of love is better than no love at all? When we’d rather die every death again and again, than spend one moment away from our heart’s true content? Wytovich plays Virgil in a collection of celestial horror that challenges the definition of angels and demons, of love and hate. She weaves through tales of heartbreak and sorrow, through poems depicting lust and greed, as her words prove testament that Heaven and Hell can be one in the same, a paradise and an inferno. Her women, some innocent, some not, walk through the circles, fall off of clouds, deny their wings, and expose their hearts to demons and devils, to imps and to fiends. They turn their backs on everything they know, question their morals and their faith, all in the name of love, and together, the good help the bad, and the bad, help the good. Not every angel has wings just as not every demon has claws.
Wytovich shows us that love isn’t always the saving grace that we expect it to be. To her, there is no balance of darkness to light, no line between what one desires and what one gets. There’s no choosing who we fall in love with, and just as love is often Heaven, it can as easily be Hell.
Stephanie is the author of three more novels and a contributor to over 29 anthologies and magazines. If you want a full listing of her bibliography head on over to her blog by clicking the link her bio. If You would like to purchase the books listed above click on the photos to be taken to either Better World Books or the publishers site.