Author Stephanie Wytovich: “Horror is drawn to me.”
If you’re going to write horror, you can’t simply imagine it. You must also experience it.
That’s the motto that author/poet Stephanie Wytovich subscribes to as she explores some of the most terrifying and haunted places in the region in her quest for inspiration, and it appears to be working well for her. This emerging author was recently nominated for the coveted Bram Stoker Award, joining the ranks of her role models, seasoned horror veterans like Jack Ketchum and Stephen King.
Wytovich, a recent graduate of Seton Hill University, earned a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction. Her first poetry collection, Hysteria, made quite an impression on horror lovers around the world. In her wildest dreams, she never thought her first collection would be so well received. Fans nominated her for the Horror Writers Association “Superior Achievement” award in dark fantasy and horror writing, presented annually since 1987. Although Wytovich didn’t win, she said the nomination alone surpassed her expectations for the book.
Like many writers, Wytovich has a common theme throughout her work which she defines as a “definitive line of mental break” where her characters, often female, cross the line from sanity to insanity.
Prior to penning Hysteria, Wytovich said she read a lot of articles about psychology and abnormal psychology.
“It was intriguing, but I hadn’t tapped into that fear,” she said. “That’s when I made the decision that if I’m going to write about an asylum I should probably visit one. My writing tells the story of an event by introducing readers to a series of patients and while I didn’t find Hysteria in the asylum, I certainly tapped into the element of fear.”
Wytovich, accompanied by a friend, arranged to visit a real asylum and prison.
“I’m very attracted to asylums,” Wytovich said. “I do a lot of urban exploring and paranormal research as I like going into places that are scary and doing some writing there. I wrote Hysteria in a prison and asylum for the most part. I love dealing with subjects heavily steeped in realism, real life horror. I like writing about medical oddities and madness, anything that can happen in real life. I’ll simply take the event and twist an element of the fantastical or the horrific into the piece and if I get scared writing it, then I know it’s working.”
She isn’t afraid to fully immerse herself in an experience in her pursuit for inspiration.
“There’s one piece in Hysteria about a hydrotherapy treatment. When I was in the West Virginia Penitentiary doing research, I wrote the piece while in the hydrotherapy tub so I knew how it felt to be in that position,” she said.
Of course, visiting areas believed to be hot spots for paranormal activity comes with a price and Wytovich has paid it with true fear.
“When I was in the psych ward at the West Virginia Penitentiary, you could still see some of the machines,” Wytovich said. “When I went into the solitary confinement area and sat down, I could hear footsteps. I’m really brave until stuff like that starts happening.”
It’s a common misconception that writers can write anything, but Wytovich says that’s truly not the case. While a student at Seton Hill University, she was asked why she chose her genre and the answer always eluded her.
“I could never answer [the question],” Wytovich said. “I’ve tried to write something beautiful and romantic, but it always ends badly. I’m just preprogramed for scary. When I was reading romances, there was something about the Gothic I found very quiet, beautiful and attractive, something that’s normally scary or otherworldly. I think some good comes from horror. No matter what I do, I tend to go in that direction. I can’t explain it. I believe horror is drawn to me more than I’m drawn to horror.”
As a follow up to Hysteria, Wytovich recently released her second poetry collection, Mourning Jewelry, on May 8 during the World Horror Convention in Portland, Oregon. A second, bigger launch was held on May 30 at the Pennsylvania Literary Festival in Uniontown. To date, the book has been well received.
The young, accomplished writer’s path hasn’t been without obstacles and pitfalls. Wytovich originally majored in pre-law upon entering college but soon abandoned her courtroom aspirations to follow her dream of becoming a writer. She’s always loved poetry and it became her staple.
“It’s the best way for me to collect moments,” Wytovich said. “You can really focus on a single moment and make them into something beautiful. I find it very cathartic, which is why I picked poetry. You can tap into energy and release it, even if it’s not always the most pleasant moment. I do write horror.”
Not everyone was on board with her plan to change majors. It took a great deal of courage to follow her dreams. Wytovich would spend three to four hours a day writing. Sacrificing friendships and relationships, she stuck to her goals and prevailed. While in graduate school, she completed her thesis novel and two poetry collections.
“A lot of people fought me on it,” she said. “Writing is something I do for myself first and foremost. It’s nice to be able to say I [followed my dreams]. I encourage [other] people to do that as well.”
While she’s very humble about her accomplishments, literary success didn’t come easily.
“I really struggled with it and almost dropped out of the program twice,” said Wytovich “I could write five poems a day, but to sit down and write 2,000 words in a novel was a challenge.”
In addition to writing and publishing her own poetry, Wytovich is the poetry editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, reviews books for Nameless Magazine and is a self-proclaimed coffee-addict. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and works local odds and end jobs between writing.
As to her future, Wytovich says she will continue working on her fourth poetry collection, having just completed her third. She’s submitted her thesis novel for consideration and is searching for an agent. She’s also attempting to break into teaching writing and literature.
To stay up to date with Wytovich, visit http://stephaniewytovich.blogspot.com.
Story by Hayley Martin for Pennsylvania Bridges