Writing Poetry In The Dark With Stephanie Wytovich

Writing Poetry In The Dark With Stephanie Wytovich

How can you stop self-censoring your writing and share the deepest aspects of yourself with your readers? How can you break poetry out of the restraints that many try to put upon it? Stephanie Wytovich talks about these things and more.

In the intro, 5 trends that are shifting the future of publishing with Monica Leonelle & Russell Nohelty; Direct Sales Strategies We Love from 36 Authors from BookBub; JFPennBooks Reading Order; AI Training Permission from Hugh Howey; Eleven Labs for AI voices and VoiceSwitcher with Storytel;

Plus, Kickstarter for Writing the Shadow: Turn Your Inner Darkness Into Words; Chuck Palahniuk on James Altucher talking about unmasking shadows; Carl Jung’s Red Book, which features in Stone of Fire.

This podcast is sponsored by Written Word Media, which makes book marketing a breeze by offering quick, easy and effective ways for authors to promote their books. You can also subscribe to the Written Word Media email newsletter for book marketing tips.

Stephanie M. Wytovich is a Bram Stoker award-winning poet, as well as a horror novelist and essayist. She’s also the poetry editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press and the editor of Writing Poetry in the Dark.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.

Show Notes

  • Allowing poetry to break out from fitting in a box
  • How to put together a poetry collection
  • Balancing writing for therapy and writing for the reader
  • Ways to stop ourselves from self-censoring
  • Where the darker sides of ourselves come from
  • The horror genre and what it encompasses
  • Differences between mainstream books and award winners
  • Benefits of being involved with a community of writers

You can find Stephanie at StephanieMWytovich.com and on social media at @SWytovich and @TheHauntedBookshelf

Transcript of Interview with Stephanie M. Wytovich

Joanna: Stephanie M. Wytovich is a Bram Stoker award-winning poet, as well as a horror novelist and essayist. She’s also the poetry editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press and the editor of Writing Poetry in the Dark, which is fantastic. So welcome, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Hi. Thank you so much for having me today.

Joanna: I’m really looking forward to our conversation. But first up—

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.

Stephanie: So I wear a lot of hats in my day-to-day life. So I teach literature and creative writing, I work in a couple of undergrad and grad programs, and then, of course, I’m writing, and I had my first child back in 2022.

Writing has kind of been this constant catharsis and quiet time to collect my thoughts during all of the madness of my day-to-day.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I always loved to make up stories as a child, and the only thing that really changed was that they got darker and darker as I grew on. Then they just continued to get more morose and terrifying as I moved further into adulthood.

But writing, and especially writing poetry has always been what I identify as in everything, you know, first and foremost.

Poetry has really changed my life in so many ways, which is why I was so honored to have the opportunity to put out this book with Raw Dog Screaming Press, Writing Poetry in the Dark, because I want to bring some of that joy that poetry has given me and share it to make it more accessible with other people.

Joanna: There’s a lot there, but you said that you really identify with poetry. I want to get into that first, and then we’ll come back to some of the other darker stuff.

From your editor’s note in Writing Poetry in the Dark, you said,

“I stopped trying to fit poetry in a box of what I thought it was, and instead opened my eyes to what poetry could be.”

I love that because I was taught poetry at school, and it was like, ‘this is literature, it needs to be this particular thing.’ So tell us how we can do this. How do we allow poetry to break out of the box? Or how have you done this?

Stephanie: Yeah, I mean, I had a very, very similar experience. I think as children, we’re given poetry all the time. We’re reading nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and we’re getting all of these different versions of poetry that are fun, and creative, and whimsical, and dark, and weird, and all of the above, and we attach to it.

Then something happens around middle school, we’re usually introduced to Edgar Allan Poe, and we see how it can be dark. We get Emily Dickinson and we’re like, oh my gosh, there’s this whole other world, like this is so cool.

Then we get to high school, and like you said, it’s very much like, read 17 Shakespearean sonnets and write me a poem in iambic pentameter or you fail AP English. Like all of the joy is just kind of squashed because it becomes this very serious, terrifying thing.

That’s not saying that formal poetry isn’t wonderful and expressive, because it is, but I think there’s this shift where it becomes fun and imaginative to very serious and kind of scary, and we lose some of the creativity and joy that’s associated with it.

For me, my journey with it is a little bit different, odd, I’m not sure quite the right word to really pinpoint it. I started writing poetry when I was probably around middle school, maybe a little bit younger. I was in therapy at the time, and I was having a really hard time talking about some of the things that I was struggling with.

My therapist had recommended to me that I start writing poetry and keeping a journal to say the things that I wanted to say, but trusting that nobody else was seeing them.

That really opened a door for me in a lot of different ways in my life to kind of get all the darkness out on the page and be really vulnerable without the fear of somebody reading it and judging me or something like that.

So I tried to keep my version of poetry and then the version of poetry that everybody told me that I had to be writing and reading very separate.

It wasn’t until probably later on in college, maybe my junior or senior year, I realized that I had all of this poetry that I wanted to start putting together maybe as a collection.

I gave myself a personal challenge or maybe a reading list where I wanted to start reading 30 collections of poetry every year to see what was out there. So I read classics, I read literary, I read Pablo Neruda’s romance sonnets that he wrote to his wife, I read tons of Poe, and Sexton and Sylvia Plath.

Then I started reading a lot of contemporary writers that were getting more political with diversity and inclusivity. I was reading Latin American poetry, and I was reading a lot of, you know, black voices and queer voices.

I was seeing how there could be this shift, that everybody’s poetry looked different.

and it was kind of my lightbulb moment that—I don’t want to say that there isn’t a definite way to write poetry because we can all read poetry and kind of be like, oh, this person really gets it, or maybe this person still needs a little bit of work in their writing—but it really opened the door that I could be creative and push boundaries. It didn’t have to be this right or wrong way, like I got when I had to write my sonnet in AP English.

Then it was really funny because last year, I had an editor reach out to me who specifically wanted me to write a Shakespearean horror sonnet. and I laughed, and I was like, oh, if somebody could find my Achilles heel, like this man did it. This man is like triggering all of my poetry woes.

I had a moment where I was like, do I want to do this? Then I absolutely was, like, I actually have to do. I have to prove to myself that I can sit down and do this, but do it my way. When I finished the poem and it eventually sold, it was kind of like my crowning achievement, that like somehow I had gone full circle on life and everything was gonna be okay.

Joanna: It’s so interesting listening to you talk about it because you also have novels, you have essays, you edit, so you see all these different things. I struggle enough with a short story, and it almost feels like the intensity level of a poem is more than the intensity of a short story, which is more intense than a novel.

So when you say like, “Oh, I just read 30 collections in a year,” like, I have quite a lot of poetry on my shelves, and I like reading poetry, but it’s almost like I’ll pull a book off, and I’ll read one poem and that will be enough.

I know you have a poetry collection coming out. So maybe tell us about how you put one together. How do you balance this intensity idea with a poetry collection?

Which is almost like, I don’t know, 60 novels or something.

How do you put together a poetry collection?

Stephanie: Yeah, well, this next one that’s coming out is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It’s called On the Subject of Blackberries, and it’s coming out from Raw Dog Screaming Press in September.

It is a collection that I quite literally wrote in three months when I was postpartum, right after having my first child. I guess which is already like a weird thing, but like to make it even stranger.

How I came about writing it was I had a really, really difficult time postpartum. I was diagnosed with depression, I had postpartum OCD, which is still something that I’m struggling with, and then I was trying to adjust to being a new mom. Like I had every feeling, and probably feelings that nobody’s put a name to yet, like kind of on my shoulders.

My comfort book, which is something that I read pretty regularly, is We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, which I know is a weird comfort, nevertheless. So I picked that up because I wanted something familiar, and I wanted something to kind of quell my nerves.

I started writing poems that were inspired by the book. I was using automatic writing, and I was using bibliomancy, and I was using all of these kind of more alternative witchy creative writing discourses to pull poems from the book and from my head.

It’s very, very vulnerable. It’s very dark, especially when you consider the time period that I was writing it.

I was using blackout poetry, and found poetry, and I quite literally lost myself in the book.

So for me, it was kind of like a homecoming. Like, I felt like when the book was done that I had almost exorcised something that was in me that needed to come out.

I can’t say that I’ve necessarily felt that way with putting a collection together before because my approach is always very thematic.

Like with Apocalyptic Mannequin, I knew that I wanted to write kind of like dystopian, science fiction, world-ending kind of poetry. So that was how I started to build I poems, and look at themes, and different artwork and stuff like that for inspiration. But with Blackberries, it was very much like I just reached in and pulled something out of me and stuck it on the page.

Joanna: That’s so interesting. So you said a couple of things.

You talked about getting the darkness out on the page, and that you feel like you maybe exorcised something when you write that way. I feel this exactly.

and this is why I think horror writers are actually the most mentally sane and well-adjusted people.

Stephanie: Yes.

Joanna: Because you take all the bad stuff and you put it out there in some form. Of course, it might be some metaphorical form, or it might be a poem or novel or whatever.

But you also touch there on depression therapy. So where’s the line between writing that is therapy and writing that is—because we’re publishing these things for a reader. So—

Where’s the line between looking inside, and then thinking about the reader on the outside?

Stephanie: So I think sometimes there is a good crossover, and I think sometimes it just has to be separate.

I have poetry that I’ve written that no one will ever see. I don’t care how desperate I ever get to have something published, like it’s just not getting out there. I think that’s really healthy. I think sometimes we do have to write for ourselves to remind ourselves why we’re doing this. 

On the same token, sometimes I will read those same poems, and I will find a line, or I will find an emotion or an image or something, that I think I could work with and kind of play with genre a little bit with it.

I might write something completely separate that kind of plays with those ideas, but isn’t that idea, if that makes sense. So a lot of the time, I think that in itself is kind of therapy because you’re continuing to process and process and have conversations with yourself. Just one way is a little bit more blunt, and one way is a little bit more hidden, if you’re talking about monsters, and the supernatural and stuff like that.

That’s something that I feel like I take over into my fiction too because sometimes when I’m really struggling.

If I’m at a point in my story and I don’t really know where to go with it, I’ll start writing poetry based on the short story that I’m writing, or I’ll start writing in my character’s voice. That usually helps me unlock things.

Sometimes the things that it unlocks are emotions that I haven’t been able to kind of pinpoint yet. So I do get very vulnerable in my fiction that way. So I think they ebb and flow and work with each other. 

A practice that I do myself, and that I’ve started encouraging a lot of my poetry students to do, and this will feel very scary when I say it, is to keep a shame journal.

I have a little notebook where I write down like all the things that embarrassed me, or that I would be kind of like afraid if somebody ever found them out, like little quirks and maybe things that aren’t necessarily so quirky, like things that just like gross me out, or things like that.

Then when I feel like I’m in a place where I want to start playing with that and start having some of those conversations, I’ll open that notebook up and start writing poems based on it. 

I did that once with a piece called The Crone Confessions that I published in Black Telephone Magazine under Clash Publishing, and it is one of the darkest things I swear I’ve written.

People respond so well to it every time because it takes it a step further than I felt like most people expected me to go with it. I think if we can find a way to acknowledge our lines, or acknowledge where we put our boundaries, and then start having conversations with ourselves about why those boundaries are there, what those boundaries are protecting us from, and then slowly start inching over them in our writing, I tend to think that that’s where the gold usually lies.

Joanna: and this is the heart of it, I think, is you talk there about the boundaries, and for many of us, we self censor.

We’re like, well, I’m not going to write that because someone will judge me, my partner will judge me, my family, the reader, like anonymous people, but also people close to us.

How do we stop that? and then they might not even write it in a journal, let alone in a poem to publish or a book to publish.

How can we stop self-censoring?

What is your process for moving that boundary so we can actually put stuff out there?

Stephanie: I actually had a really good conversation about this with Zoje Stage and Katrina Monroe at StokerCon. We were on a Monstrous Mother’s panel together, so we were talking a lot about being mothers, writing about mothers, our own mothers, the whole kit and caboodle.

I think it was Katrina that said that she had heard a piece of advice years ago that she always tries to keep in the back of her head, and it was to write like your family or your loved ones are dead. and that is, I mean, it’s fantastic advice, but it’s really hard advice to swallow.

I mean, we can’t censor ourselves in our writing or everybody’s going to feel like that wall is up, right, and that the reader can access you or can’t access the characters in the way that they’re meant to, to kind of get the full picture of the story. But it’s also incredibly difficult, because like you said, you know that these people are going to be reading or hearing conversations about your work.

So for me, for me personally, that is something that I have been trying very hard to keep in the back of my head as I continue writing now, but it took me a very long time to get to a point where I was okay with starting to cross over some of those walls that I built.

I would say I put out maybe four or five collections of poetry before I really felt like I started to take off a mask and show readers who was actually behind and what I was capable of.

I think the best advice here is that —

It’s something that you have to practice. The more that you do it, obviously, the easier it’s going to get.

I would just challenge yourself every time that you’re writing a story or a poem or working on a novel, take a brick out of the wall, every time try. Try push yourself. It doesn’t have to be leaps and bounds, but just a little bit further, and see how that feels and sit with it.

Then pretty soon it’s going to be muscle memory. You’re going to feel more calm and confident. You’re going to know how to talk about it. You’re going to know how to really put it on the page. It won’t be this scary, threatening thing anymore.

Joanna: Yes, I also feel it was my fifth novel, Desecration, which was when I was like, I’m writing this now.

But it’s interesting, I mean, I agree with you on thinking that, you know, write as if everyone else is dead. But in reality, they’re not.

I mean, my mom has said to me, “I can’t read that. It gives me nightmares, and I don’t know what I did to you.” You did nothing to me. That’s not necessarily where these things come from. Although, you know, mothers! We could talk about mothers another time.

Well, I guess where do you think this comes from? I almost think that those of us who are into the darker things are maybe born this way. I don’t know.

Where do you think the darkness comes from?

Stephanie: Well, I know, for me personally, I felt like I could pinpoint it very specifically.

Joanna: Okay, great.

Stephanie: So I’ve told this story a couple of times, so I think my parents are used to it at this point. So my family is very, very much like the Addams Family. So like Halloween was always our Christmas. We’ve always been very spooky, my parents love horror, like ever all of my childhood things growing up were spooky and weird. I had a clown that sat on a swing like right next to my crib. It was very creepy. and I hated Halloween, and I hated horror because it was everywhere and I was terrified of it. But it was almost kind of like I didn’t really have a choice, like I was gonna grow up to be Wednesday Addams, or I wasn’t going to fit in the family. 

Eventually, I think my mom started showing me what horror could really be. It didn’t have to be jump scares. It didn’t have to be slashers. I can remember the first time I sat down and watched Interview with the Vampire with her and was just fascinated by vampires and how romance could be kind of partnered with horror.

Or like the first time I watched Evil Dead and saw how comedy could be with it and how it also was having these like massive discussions about things that I desperately wanted to talk about but was afraid to, but I could talk about them under the veil of like a spooky horror movie. 

Once I think I cracked that code, I recognized the potential for horror, and I just never looked back.

Like I think that it just gives us such a platform to have such difficult discussions, whether they’re personal, political, emotional, whatever you want it to be, but to talk about them behind the cover of like a werewolf, or the creature from the Black Lagoon or Frankenstein’s monster. I just love that. I feel like it’s very freeing.

Horror doesn’t judge you, it doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It just is what it is. 

I think as a kid, it’s so hard to just be who you are, and horror just gave me the confidence to do that.

So that’s why I was so drawn to it, and I continue to think that’s why I kind of have stayed here because the community on the whole is so welcoming, and so loving, and just, you know, they just want to play and they want to have fun, but they also want to have these really intense conversations that I think we need to be having right now. So it just continues to inspire me relentlessly, and positively, and all the other good adjectives that I could put there.

Joanna: Oh, that is so interesting.

I think, for me, it was maybe the opposite, in that I always had a dark little soul, but I was brought up in the power of positive thinking kind of thing. You’re not sick, it’s all in the mind. You just need to think positive, and you can do anything.

I always had to be positive and happy. I wasn’t allowed really to be sad, or any of the things that might be considered darker emotions. So it’s interesting to think where we came from.

But you said there that horror is not just jump scenes and slashes, and I totally agree with you. Like, I don’t do either of those things. I don’t watch those things. I don’t read those things.

But you also said it is what it is. Horror is what it is. But you say that, and so many people have these wrong impressions of what horror actually is. Some of the stuff I’ve read, I mean, it feels to me very literary, very experimental, very kind of weird, to be honest, and that’s maybe why it’s not mainstream, as opposed to what people think it is.

What are some of the things that the word horror can encompass?

Stephanie: Yeah. I often kind of chuckle too because when I see these conversations about what horror is and isn’t, it feels like a reflection to me of like what poetry is and isn’t.

I just think people are so desperate to put a label on things, and if something isn’t this binary, black and white situation, like people start to panic. I always tell people, like when they ask me like, oh, who was your influence? Why did you start writing horror poetry? I always say I worshipped at the Church of Plath and Sexton. 

I don’t think that the majority of the readers and poets would say that Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton are horror poets. But to me, they were, and they unlocked something that I thought was so dark and powerful.  It pushed me to kind of start having those conversations with myself.

So I guess to answer your question, I mean, horror and what scares us is going to be different for every person. Everybody’s going to have a spectrum of what they think a genre is, what it can be, what it isn’t. and ultimately, I think that’s a good thing because it forces us to keep having conversations about our relationship with the genre, and where we want to push it, where we want to see it go.

I just don’t think that we need to be so concerned about putting it in a box.

I feel like with a lot of things in life right now, that’s kind of where we’re at. We want simple, direct words to describe everything. Like that’s not the human experience. Humans aren’t like that.

So I think we need to worry a little bit more about what things can be, how we reinterpret the haunted house as a metaphor for queerness, or how we look at the transformation of a werewolf, and how that can relate to sexual assault and have bigger conversations about what’s going on. Like, those are the things that I think we need to focus on. 

I watched a documentary series that they put on Shutter called Queer for Fear. It’s a very short documentary about the history of horror and how it is positively, just completely gay, which I firmly believe that it is. It was so eye opening and beautiful and sad and wonderful, because it showed essentially how monsters were a metaphor for queerness. I think that we’re at a point now where we can take that even further.

I think we need to focus on how we can keep building the genre, rather than trying to like stuff it down into that box and give it a name. Because horror is so much bigger than anything that we can talk about because it’s different for everybody.

Joanna: It’s interesting. I mean, monsters are pretty much always a metaphor for something. Yeah, I’ve actually written a monster novel called Catacomb, and I know what the monster is metaphor for. I haven’t really talked about it, I won’t talk about it.

But it’s almost like, yeah, I mean, we kill the monster somehow, and maybe we have to keep killing the monster in lots of different ways, in lots of different books.

I think labeling is a problem because of basically Amazon, and the way we shop online, and the way we use these categories. I mean, even in a bookstore, what annoys me actually, I’m here in the UK, and it annoys me in a bookstore because I literally will go to the tiny, tiny horror section, which is maybe two tiny half shells, and it is just Stephen King.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Joanna: and maybe a couple of Dean Koontz. and then it will be really old books, where the authors are dead. Like Edgar Allan Poe, like you say, and it won’t be modern horror.

But if you go to the sci-fi/fantasy section, you will actually find books that you and I might call horror. Like you mentioned vampires, I mean, anything that has a vampire could technically be horror, but now it’s kind of, is it dark fantasy? Is it romantic fantasy or whatever?

So maybe that’s the problem is we have to shelve these things somehow.

Stephanie: In the US right now, I’ve noticed that there’s typically like three Barnes and Nobles that I will usually shop at, and their horror sections are booming now. It’s so exciting because my experience was very much like yours for the majority of my life.

But I feel like in the last maybe two or three years, like there is a prominent horror section. I’m seeing so many of my friends books on the shelves, like I have booksellers who are like putting Mexican Gothic in my hands, and Malerman’s Daphne and my hands. It’s very exciting, but that’s a very new development. 

I think there’s always been a stigma on the label of horror. Like, we’ve always been like the redheaded stepchild of publishing for whatever reason, but I think we’re starting to see that break down.

I think booksellers and publishing are starting to realize how big that horror readership is.

and also that people, maybe who haven’t even previously been interested in horror, are kind of flocking to that now, especially—like I say post-pandemic, but I think we’re still kind of in it in some way, shape or form—but you know, post-pandemic because it’s therapeutic. Like, we have our own personal wars that we’re all dealing with, and it’s kind of nice to be able to see somebody else go through something scary that’s not us. Like there’s an anxiety transfer, that happens. 

So I think the face of horror is starting to change a little bit. I think we’re seeing people be a little bit more accepting and kind of testing the waters. Like, okay, if we start putting Eric LaRocca’s like queer, violent horror fiction here, who will flock to that? and everybody flocked to it.

I think they’re testing the waters to kind of see how well it works, and they’re seeing how hungry people really are for it. So hopefully, that’ll continue to change and we’ll see it all over the place, with these sections being more recognized, and horror being talked about more broadly, I think we’re seeing agents pick up horror and say they’re specifically looking for it more. So I hope this isn’t a trend, but rather just a new move in a very positive direction for all of us.

Joanna: That does give me hope because often these things start in the US and then move into other places. So yeah, that is really positive.

I also wanted to ask you, because you’re a multi-award-winning writer and editor, so you see both sides of the publication process. What I have also noticed about horror is it can be pretty literary, and they’re also often standalone because, of course, lots of people sometimes die. Sometimes, not all the time.

So I have really thought about this in terms of a lot more genre writers, so I write thrillers, as you know, I have a long running thriller series. and it’s actually quite difficult to enter awards with later books in a series because they might not make sense as a standalone. I guess—

What are some of the things you see in award-winning horror fiction?

and is, I guess, being a standalone one of them? and what are some of the differences between mainstream books and award winners?

Stephanie: I think the first thing that’s most important in this is self-advocacy. I know I’m really bad at this, like I hate constantly talking about a project and marketing it, and I just feel like I’m kicking a dead horse and people are like, Stephanie, please just stop talking about what you’re working on. But we have to do that, right?

We have to do it. Nobody’s going to advocate for us like we advocate for ourselves. So I think that that’s something that’s gonna be uncomfortable for a while, but we have to just keep doing it until it’s not uncomfortable, essentially.

I think it’s really important to be aware of the opportunities that are out there.

Know the awards, know the editors, follow the editors on social media, try to build authentic relationships with these people.

I mean, it’s very obvious when somebody is trying to be your friend because they want something from you, versus you legitimately being like, “I’m such a fan of the work that you put out. Let me buy you a drink, and let’s talk about it.”

I think building authentic relationships without the quid pro quo relationship is so unbelievably important, and it’s such a huge problem with social networking. So I think that’s something to keep in mind as you’re growing and exploring and advocating for your work and trying to be aware of the opportunities out there. 

So when you have a project and you eventually find an editor, I think it’s going to look a little bit different if you’re doing something in the indie world versus in the commercial publishing world, if that makes sense.

I think something to keep in mind constantly is that—I feel like this is going to contradict everything I just said—you don’t want to work on a project with an award in mind. You know what I mean?

You want to be writing because you want to be writing, and because you need to write the story and telling the story is fun. and when you’re doing that, again, it’s going to be authentic to the reader that you’re not putting in a checklist of things to try to get the Shirley Jackson Award, or to try to get that Edgar Allan.

So I think you have to be very honest and authentic with yourself. Then the questions that you have to start asking yourself are, how much of this am I potentially okay with changing? Is this vision something that’s malleable? Or is this something that I really want to keep the way that it is?

Because when you go commercial, if you’re writing like this bizarre or weird thing, one, it might not be able to be commercial, so your reach might not be as big.

But if you go to an indie publisher, and they love how bizarre and weird it is, and you know that this is the right fit, and that they are going to scream it from the top of the mountains, your reach might be smaller, but that word of mouth and once it finds that nice group of people, it will explode

think about what your goals are and what your personal artist statement is with that project, and constantly be having that evolving discussion with yourself from book to book or project to project so you can see where the best fit is.

A commercial publisher may put it out, but it may not go to the right audience. Like more people might have access to it, but it might miss the people that the indie publisher could have directly targeted.

So I think it’s a very complicated conversation, which I think is why it’s so important, kind of like we were talking before, like you want to find your tribe, you want to find your people, you want to find a really good editor, you want somebody that you can trust to give you good feedback and that can kind of help have these kind of rolling conversations with.

Then I think the awards find you, honestly. Because again, if they meet the right readers, and they’re in the hands of the right people, you’ll get the return on profit, the return on interest that you’re putting out into the publishing world.

Joanna: You talk there about finding your people, and you’re really active in the horror community and the Horror Writers Association.

You mentioned StokerCon, before, and we were talking before the recording, and I was like I had a ticket when it was in the UK, but I haven’t been. I’ve been a member of the Horror Writers Association for a few years.

But I wondered, what are the benefits for authors who are listening who might be like, “Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I’d love to find my people, but how do I know?”

What are the benefits for authors to be involved with the community of writers, not just to be seeking readers?

Stephanie: Yeah, there are countless, surely.

So I’ve been an active member of the Horror Writers Association for 10-plus years now. and I’m not being hyperbolic when I say this, like it has truly changed and enriched my life in so many ways.

It’s also very different from when I attended my first World Horror Convention, like years and years ago, where it still felt a little bit cliquey. Like I was very shy, I didn’t know exactly where I fit in.

Now when I go, as kind of somebody who’s been to a lot of the cons and I see new people come in, like it is so welcoming and inspiring. Nobody’s going to let anybody be sitting in a corner. They’re going to bring you to the bar, they’re going to bring you to dinner, they’re going to bring you in conversations.

There’s just such a general excitement to be around people who just get it and who know those feeling. So I think in terms of finding your people, you truly can’t find a better convention, a better organization of people who are just going to be there to support you. 

Beyond the like lovey-dovey approach to this, there are so many educational opportunities for new writers and for professional writers. The HWA offers so many different scholarships for poetry, for nonfiction writing, they have diversity grants, they have the Scholarship From Hell that they give out to fund somebody to go to StokerCon and get the hotels and everything.

They have a mentorship program where, let’s say you wanted to start writing poetry, but like you don’t know where to start, they can pair you up with somebody who’s been working in poetry for years, and they can work one-on-one with you. They have stuff for young adult writing, like they just added a middle grade section to the Stoker ballot.

The HWA is getting more inclusive and more diverse. I mean, they have a mental health initiative where they’re constantly having rolling discussions around self-care and how mental health is being depicted in horror.

I could go on and on and on. There are just so many facets of the organization that are there to support you, protect you, educate you, and just kind of mold you into the writer that you want to be. So I truly cannot recommend it enough. It has changed my life. It has given me so many opportunities. I’ve got editing experience for them. I got scholarships that funded certain projects and books that I’ve been working on. It’s wonderful, just period. It’s wonderful.

Joanna: You totally sold me! I guess for people listening, it doesn’t have to be the Horror Writers Association, it can be another genre organization. Like wherever you feel, like you said, find your people, and I mean, it’s the people who accept the type of thing that you write. So I’m not going to fit at a romance writing conference.

Stephanie: Me neither!

Joanna: Even though there is a crossover, you know. People do write horror-romance or whatever. But yeah, I mean, I think that’s the reality. We’re all weird, aren’t we?

We’re all weird in our own little worlds. It’s nice to hang out with people who are weird in the same way.

Stephanie: Yes. Or teach us to be weird in different ways.

Joanna: That’s fantastic.

So where can people find you, and your books, and everything you do online?

Stephanie: You can go to my website, which is StephanieMWytovich.com. I have a blog that you can access from that page where I host poet interviews and I do a monthly writing recap.

I’m on social media everywhere as SWytovich. Then I also have a horror bookstagram account that you can find at thehauntedbookshelf. Then my books are available anywhere that books are sold.

Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Stephanie. That was great.

Stephanie: Thank you so much. This is wonderful.

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