From Holmes, With Love (and murder)

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Herman Webster Mudgett, alias Dr. H. H. Holmes. *source*

In 2015 I watched a documentary on Netflix titled H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer. I took notes, fascinated, wanting to do something with this savagely strange killer…a couple years, an MFA degree, and some publications later, I finally found precious time to sit down and research Holmes for my next poetry collection, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, which should be out later this year.

So until then, let me offer you some Valentines, H.H. Holmes style, while I continue researching and writing and dreaming in the darkness. Who better to do romance than a serial killer doctor who had three wives at once, courted mistresses, and stuffed some of them into trunks after killing them?

Ah, amour!

Actually, a couple years ago the Pittsburgh ScareHouse featured a Holmes “murder hotel” theme in their Basement that I went to for Valentine’s Day. You had to sign a waiver before entering since the Basement allows the actors to touch you. Thus, I was electrocuted, blindfolded, shoved in a safe, slightly strangled, chained up by the H.H. Holmes actor, and more! It was great!

Please enjoy these love notes from my muse, this strange, manipulatively charming,

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What do you mean everyone doesn’t have stacks of Holmes books and a Holmes coaster? (In my defense, some of these were gifts, ha.)

swindler of a man…or, of a devil, as he would have you know….Try these out on your loved ones and let me know how it goes.

*Roses are red, your lips are blue, I’ll hide your body so well, and poison your daughter, too. For Julia and Pearl

*I want to strip off your clothes and your skin

*With a body like that, you’d make a beautiful research cadaver

*I’ve never met anyone like you. Be my fourth wife? No, it’s okay, I left them alive and only killed the mistresses. I swear!

*Love isn’t refundable, now sign your property and life insurance over to me
-(Holmes was a notorious conman and loved money)

*What’s the key to your heart? *pulls out dissection knife*

*Love is like chloroform, sweet-smelling at first, but then you wake up naked and chained in the basement…

P.s. Artist Holly Carden designed this cool as hell illustration of the Murder Castle here. You should check it out.

The doctor and I bid you farewell, for now. We can’t wait to invite you back into the nightmare dreamland later…



StokerCon 2018 Schedule

Next month I’ll be headed to Lovecraft’s home town of Providence for StokerCon 2018. I Screen Shot 2018-02-11 at 11.35.11 AMattended my first StokerCon last year in Long Beach, CA, so I’m excited to be attending again (and to have a much shorter flight this time around — LAX is actually made of nightmares). Here’s what I’ll be participating in:

Friday, March 2nd, 11a.m. — Reading Block: I’m ecstatic to be reading my work at a conference for the first time. My reading block is with Randy D. Rubin and Scott Edelman — good stuff! It’s sure to be a wonderful and weird time.

Saturday, March 3rd, noon, — Women In Horror Month Panel: I can’t wait to talk about my favorite ladies in horror and gush about their work, influence, and inspiration. This panel is with Amber Newberry, Kathleen Scheiner, Linda Addison, Meghan Acruri-Moran, and moderated by Carol Gyzander.

Saturday, March 3rd, 3:00pm, — Terrifying Teaching Tactics Panel: Horror in the classroom? Oh yes. This panel is going to be a blast, and I’ll be chatting with Frazer Lee, Heather Herrman, Tom F. Monteleone, and the madness is moderated by Mike Arnzen.

Saturday, March 3rd, 4:00pm, — Breaking Barriers with Horror Poetry Panel: Poetry is one of my favorite things to write, talk about, and study, so I’m thrilled to be on this panel with John Edward Lawson, Marge Simon, Randy D. Rubin, and Stephanie Wytovich, moderated by the brilliant Linda Addison.

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In between all of this, I can’t wait to attend workshops, classes, a pitch session, see old friends, and fangirl over some of the writers who will be attending this year. See you all at the Biltmore!


Friday the 13th — Academic Style

Having a Friday the 13th in October was too fun for this horror writer to pass up, even in the classroom. I had my Composition & Culture students discuss the pros and cons of what would happen if social media suddenly vanished from campus, and then we took a look at some horror films (and the excellent show Black Mirror) that portray social media/technology as an ultimate and relatable in-your-face evil as compared to the more metaphorical/societal evils vampires, demons, witches, and other baddies in horror tend to represent. (Check back later for another post on this comparison because I think it’s a fascinating one to delve into).

For some creative fun, I brought in my pal and poetry colleague Mike Arnzen’s Fridge of the Damned Poetry magnets and challenged my students to use the poetry bits to create something inspired by our social media conversation (because poetry is fun!) I was both impressed by each group’s abilities to provide a great analysis to convince me how their poems tied into our earlier conversation, and quite happy to see the overall engagement in creating poetry because, as anyone who has met me knows, I believe in the power of poetry and doing any kind of creativity, always. With about 10ish minutes on the clock, I set the challenge, played some spooky soundtracks in the background, and they got to work.

Check out each group’s poem below! And while they are dark and I love horror, I obviously like some social media (I mean, I am blogging about this after all), but I very much believe in the importance of discussing our social media-obsessiveness, and maybe poking fun of our habits can lead to some introspective moments of reflection and encourage us to put the phones down and enjoy the fall foliage or read a book beneath the autumn sunlight. Or write wacky poems with friends.

Tommy's group

“Fear is human…” Tommy, Devin, and Cory show us how sometimes people are childish on social media, but hurtful comments can seal into one’s mind. And sometimes, social media claims our very souls…duhn, duhn, duhn…

Sam's group

Sam, Megan, Josh, and Kylie give us some abstract lines to show how time disappears when on social media. It can hook us in, render us numb, and end with the shrieks of the innocent.

Mike's group

Demons within chocolate? Oh yes. Mike, Kate, and Camila delve into how sweet someone can seem on the internet versus the inner demons that may be lingering beneath the surface.

Lauren's group

Lauren, Katie, Allison, Teegan, and McGarity present a dark analysis of the fragility of our nerves when on social media, and how despair can grab us when we dangle our hearts on the internet.

Azaria's group

“broken humans / in agony” — the glare may hide some words, but Azaria, Alma, Nelson, and Brooklynn don’t glare away from showing how broken people can break even more inside the noisy world of social media.

Kelsey's group

Kelsey, Lexi, Mackensi, and Kamyron chop us up with this abstract and detailed piece on the potential darkness lurking when we give too much of ourselves to social media.

Andrew's group

The glass machine, is it social media or is it humanity? Andrew, Taylor, Gabby, and Trent provide some interesting thoughts on different elements on various social media in this one.

Josey's group

“swallow you dead” — it certainly can. Owen, Liz, Anna H., Anna M., and Josey provide us with these final thoughts on the costumes we sometimes wear on social media compared to our true selves.




Broken Crayon Creative (EDITING BOSSES)

I am delighted to announce I’ve partnered with some incredibly talented writers and editors (who I am lucky enough to call my friends), to establish our own company of editing services. We are a passionate group who hopes to use our love of writing to help others in the field. Whether it’s creative, nonfiction, social media, or business writing, we have someone for any writing/editing services you may be looking for.

Check out the lovely website my colleagues designed and take a look at the many services we offer. Here! Here! —> BROKEN CRAYON CREATIVE

You can also stalk us….
on Facebook
on Twitter

What Will Your Verse Be?

Commencement speech for January 2017 SHUWPF graduation.

What Will Your Verse Be?

In 1855, a writer named Walt Whitman published a poetry collection titled Leaves of Grass. He would go on to spend the majority of his professional life writing, re-writing, and re-writing again, pieces of the collection.
He revised it until his death, until the original collection of twelve poems ended up as a compilation of over 400 pieces.

Now, Whitman was clearly on the more literary side of things where working on a collection or a novel even until one’s death is not all that unusual. In the field of popular fiction, however, we’re expected to produce more than one great literary masterpiece, but there’s a lot we can learn from someone like Whitman, someone who was dedicated, perhaps overly dedicated, to his work.

But the concept of writing and re-writing, even when we probably could send the work off and at least see what happens, is a scenario a lot of us can relate to. We strive for perfection because it is hard, sometimes, to maintain that kind of distance and detachment from our work, to reach the “good enough” phase. Writers tend to obsess over one sentence, one word, and so on. Perfection, however, is rarely an option for us, which is why we chose this field.

We are contributors to a craft where there are always new challenges. And hopefully even when we get stuck in those phases of oh, just have to rewrite the third chapter for the tenth time and then I’ll send it off to markets, well maybe I should add more to the ending or this death scene, this love scene, this scene with the aliens or robots or wolves. We most likely won’t end up like Whitman, revising the same work over and over until we die, but in the same way perhaps it wouldn’t surprise a lot of us if we were to end up being that writer.

There is a well-known movie starring the late and immensely talented Robin Williams called Dead Poets Society where the character John Keating quotes Whitman’s poem “O Me! O Life!” which goes:

“O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’ Answer. That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”

Now, Whitman’s verse, and I’m using the term “verse” loosely here to mean more than a literal verse of words, but perhaps a line, a collection, a book, and something beyond writing too, because Whitman’s verse that he contributed to the very life and identity he mentions is a verse of what was considered scandal at the time. Leaves of Grass delighted in being human, in being a part of nature. It was candid and sensual, thus making it nearly unheard of at the time.

People didn’t know what to do with Whitman. His verse was to seize the rolling drumbeat within his veins and bones until he was able to build and create life onto his pages. His verse contributed to the very humanity of writing. He dared write what many others would not because sometimes as writers we must listen to the inner need to pull from our hearts and souls, and then bleed onto the page. That is what Whitman did, that was and is his verse, and that’s why his influence sticks with us.

Whitman tells us that we too may contribute a verse. So what will your verse be? What words will you contribute to our craft, to humanity, to life? We all are here, earning this degree, because we have a love affair with words, because we have a need to write, a will that cannot be extinguished even when we hit that low point where it seems the words have left us. We will rise above those dark moments though because the need to write will never completely leave us. Even when the darkness grows deep, we will rise above. Even if we hear the maddening cackles of one Mike Arnzen or one Scott Johnson in that darkness, we will push through.

We are also writers because we have been given the gifts of empathy and sympathy. If you want to be a great writer, be great at emotion. Otherwise you will never properly be able to inhale the oxygen of the world around you, and then breathe the air back into your words to grant your book life. So yes, let your verse be one of words, but do not forget your gift of empathy. Be present in the physical world as you craft your verse; be active in the causes you believe in more than in something like heated Facebook debates.

We are beyond lucky to have a tribe of supportive writers here, so take advantage of that. Listen to the concerns, fears, doubts, successes and challenges of your friends and of those who are your complete opposites; otherwise, you will become as stagnant as static characters who refuse to change.

So how will you contribute to this changing world? In Whitman’s “Laws for Creations” he asks, “What do you suppose will satisfy the soul except to walk free and own no superior?”

I invite you all to satisfy your souls with your writing and words, to be free in your works because one of the reasons we write is to have that freedom in the stories we create. We have no limits or bounds within our works except for the ones we set for ourselves. Let us learn to walk free and own no superior.

Let us continue studying popular fiction and all other fiction no matter the genre or if it’s in the literary canon or on a bestseller list; let us offer escapism in our work but not be afraid to be raw.

Whitman’s poem Song of Myself, was one of the pieces he revised several times. One of my favorite sections from the poem goes:

“Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far, it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know,
Perhaps it is every where on water and on land.”

Your dreams and goals are within reach. Successful writing is not easy. We all know the frustration that comes with our passion because many of us have had to answer questions like: Why are you doing this? What purpose does creative writing really serve? What are you actually going to do with your life?

Luckily for us, we have the most incredibly encouraging group of writers in this program. So concentrate on that support when you are writing your words and when you are contributing your verse, whatever it may be, and wherever it may be. Whitman tells us we must travel this road ourselves, and he’s right. We have solid support along our winding, rocky paths, but in the end the willpower and dedication is solely up to the drive within our own hearts to create the best stories, to contribute the best verses that we possibly can.

Thank you.

Make America Love Again…Maybe?

I feel like something has died and I am mourning it. What is this elusive “it” I speak of? Freedom? Equality? Democracy? I’m not sure yet, but I believe time will tell. For the next four years I am to live in a country under the reign of a man who has been compared to Hitler in deeply disturbing ways (and yes, their differences still make Trump just as dangerous), a man who has not bothered to hide racist, sexist, and xenophobic viewpoints from the public. I am meant to respect a leader who has upcoming trials for fraud, mistreatment of employees, and sexual assault. The President-Elect of the United States is a man accused of the most degrading, lewd behavior, and I will never understand exactly how this country devolved to this point.

Was this result truly because Americans oppose Hillary that much? I have trouble believing that, but then what is the alternative?

From where I stand, in the midst of a small town that lacks diversity, I believe the alternative is a darker, deeper truth — hatred. Fear and hatred, perhaps even loathing toward a changing America. What is this mysterious “greatness” that Trump speaks of that we apparently need to go back to? All I can think of is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and how I hope with every fiber of my being that such a totalitarian dystopia does not become reality, but I fear that world because I don’t think Trump is a man who would mind such a place.

I would love to be proven wrong. I would love to see Trump become a man that apologizes for his hateful comments, a man who calmly and rationally makes decisions that may avoid World War III (OR YOU KNOW NUCLEAR WAR) because if you don’t think that’s a possibility with Trump, a man who loves war, as president, then you haven’t been paying attention.

All I can hope is that Trump chooses to be a president to ALL Americans, that he proudly will represent ALL Americans no matter their race, culture, background, sexual orientation, etc… as Van Jones emotionally discussed last night.

To accept the presidency is to accept treating everyone fairly, justly, and lovingly. These are not adjectives I associate with Trump, but again, go ahead and prove me wrong, Donald. I dare you. He does not get to choose the elite of whom he wishes to govern over. That is not American. His loyalty must be to all Americans, even the minorities he speaks so hatefully toward. Otherwise, there is no greatness here, only shame. Along with that, Mike Pence is a truly terrifying man, as in medieval-level terrifying.

But I want Trump supporters to show me they are not the stereotypical racist, screaming, lunatics that I have seen in media clips, that I have heard spouting inhumane garbage in public… Trump supporters, show me your compassion, your empathy, your ability to love those who are different than you. America needs to know you are with all of us, not just the white, privileged, like-minded, Trump Train supporters. Do you want to bridge gaps and heal the nation? You must, must, must let us know. This is your civic duty. I need you to honestly tell me if you support racist, sexist, prejudice viewpoints or if you will work with us to heal divides and aim for acceptance? Otherwise, congratulations on being a terrible human being.

In the mean time, to everyone who feels as heartbroken as I do about the election results, I am with you. Let me offer you one of my favorite quotes that is used in The Handmaid’s Tale as we move forward together.

“Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

And we won’t. We mustn’t. If Donald Trump truly aims to work for the people as he promised in his election speech last night, then he must listen to us. So blog, write letters, tweet, protest peacefully, get involved, write to your state senators, and never let silence rule you. Speak out against racism, prejudice, and inequality. Keep the conversation open, honest, and civil. Love one another. Be kind.