Interview with Kathleen Mahnke, author of the Planar Helix series

•August 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Description of the Planar Helix series

Planar Helix grew out of an urban fantasy setting. The universe expanded from the idea of “90’s DC goth scene” to layers of intersecting reality. Where do supernatural creatures come from? What is magic? How does it world in this world?

These questions led myself and my creative partner Naga Mii to ask another important question. Did we create supernatural creatures through our fantasies and nightmares? Were we created to be preyed upon by more powerful creatures? I picture our world as a seed of creation, intersecting and running from other realities that are all on the brink of destruction.

Universal questions play against personal ones. Maybe large forces are getting ready to collide, but what about a single person who is coming to power and exploring this world? Even in the midst of fantastic events, life unfolds.

Kathleen Mahnke Author Biography:

I have been writing since I was young. Most of my writing was reports for school papers or essays for a rebellious writers group I started in my teen years. I’ve started and stopped many creative writing projects. Nothing came out as fluid and meaningful as it was in my thoughts. Planar Helix is the first novel I have (almost) brought to completion.

It is awkward to try to describe myself on a personal level. I grew up climbing trees and going fishing, riding horses and target practicing. I always had a book in my saddle bags and my mind was wandering through adventures when my body was curled up under a tree.

As I made friends I found myself drawn to people who loved to read, or loved creative pastimes. Nerd culture invited me in and adopted me. Role playing became a new way to not only enjoy a creative idea, but to interact within it. The freedom of creating rather than passively reading stories appeals to me. This created inspiration to write my own adaptation of these shared adventures. I suppose you could say that becoming social brought me full circle back to writing alone in a comfy corner.

Social Media Links

https://www.patreon.com/planarhelix

https://www.facebook.com/kathleenevelyncreative

The Interview:

Q. How long have you been working on the first book in the Planar Helix series and when do you think you’ll be done?

A. It’s a bit of a grey area when I started. Planar Helix was born of a collaboration between myself and my lover, Naga Mii. We moved from talking about a world, to him running a role playing game based in the world, to me falling in love with the unfolding story and my main character, Maria Luna. I started officially writing about a year ago. Naga Mii got busy with work and I kept being excited about my project. It traveled away from the original story and turned into something else. At some point along the line he stepped back and became my sounding board rather than my co writer. At first it was sad not to have creative collaboration, but then it became liberating to make all the calls and create a related but unique world with its own wonders and torments.

I am about three scenes from having the first draft of the first book written. I was about a month or two from being done, then broke my hand. Typing is now tedious, so I’ll double that. Maybe I’ll be done with my first draft in four months, and have it edited a few months after that. Let’s say before new year.

Q. What inspired you to start the books and where does the name come from?

A. I mentioned some of the inspiration. I’m a big tabletop geek. It has always fascinated me to play a character within another world. Of course, I am spoiled. Fantasy/supernatural/sci-fi fiction are readily available to the point that it is hard to mention all the amazing authors that have influenced my writing. J.R.R. Tolkien, N.K. Jemison, and Jim Butcher are the highlights when it comes to Maria’s universe.

Q. How much do Maria and Beauregard’s sexuality play into the flow of your stories and the plot lines?

A. I almost excluded details in their trysts. I had a fear of being labeled as a romance author. I also worried about fantasy genre readers discounting my work if it was considered “smut.” Then I realized how much of a social construct that bullshit is. A male author is “gritty” if he includes explicit scenes. A female author with the same level of detail gets called a “lonely housewife.” Fuck that.

Maria is a passionate character. Denying her sexuality for fear of being misunderstood only capitulates to a society that judges women for the same behavior it rewards in men. Her love, her passion, her experiences are all a part of her story.

Beauregard being her lover makes him a part of this story. Initially, Naga Mii had intended for Beau to be more of a foil for Maria’s activities. He was introduced as a lawful character that would be the voice of reason at times, or an opponent when Maria went too far. Then there was a scene we played out in which Maria saw into his soul. Beauregard’s eternal effort to be a better person in a shitty world made Maria love him. So, I brought that romance into the book. Her decisions affect his life, and vice versa.The fact that they are vastly different people helps add a bit of depth to their dynamic. I like that Maria and Beau have a lot to teach each other.

Q. Do you think your space-aged vampires are more aligned with science-fiction, fantasy, horror or paranormal romance? Where and when do the genres blur?

A. The genres blur to the point that I’m not sure what genre my writing is. I don’t consider them space age vampires as much as alternate dimension vampires. That may be splitting hairs, but I feel my model of existence is more interconnected than separate planets. I picture the Planar Helix to be something nobody can entirely comprehend, but something that can be manipulated and understood well enough to travel between planes. Are they planets, or layers, like an onion, or are they chunks of reality orbiting and intersecting one another? Part of the plot is exploring those questions.

Q. As a queer author, how important is it to you to write and represent queer characters and cultures in your stories?

A. On some levels it is just a natural side effect. Maria has roughly my sexuality. A lot of my characters have sexuality brought up as the story progresses. I do my best to represent their intimate lives without highlighting it. I dislike when authors write as though queerness needs to somehow be showcased. It’s just a part of our lives, and therefore our stories.

In other areas, it is important to me to represent sexual identity evenly. For instance, I wrote a short story that had a transgender individual as a villain. I chose to go back and include a positive representation of a transgender person so that I would not have a one-sided or purely negative representation of my T’s in the LGBTQ family.

Q. How does multiculturalism play into your series?

A. The foundation of my universe was built with my lover, who is a first generation immigrant from Burma. A lot of Maria’s family dynamic is a mixture of his stories, my experiences, and memories of my Tia Lucinda. As a white passing child of a Chilean immigrant, Maria faces a lot of “otherness.”

Beyond the main character, there are a lot of underlying themes that include multiculturalism. The setting is 90’s Washington D.C. Since the area had a large black population, my story does as well.

Naga Mii is my first sounding board if I have a question about portraying multicultural characters honestly. He helped me have the courage to portray Maria’s shortcomings. I used some of her social interactions to show the awkwardness of perhaps having good intentions, but being ignorant in black spaces. As she grows in many other ways, she also grows in cultural understanding. As a white author, I feel responsible for including these underlying themes and not flinching away from the effort of writing a diverse world filled with diverse people.

White authors tend to 1: leave out people of color, 2: fall into writing POC’s as stereotypes, or 3: write POC’s as if they were white, then casually mention the character is of another ethnicity. So somewhere between here and there I fell back on my research nerd skills. I’ve asked friends of color who are authors or fantasy readers what they like to see, or hate to see when it comes to portrayal of people of color in fiction. I’ve read books featuring multicultural casts. I also reached out to people of color who have to do with the lifestyle of individual characters. For instance, I contacted an all-black biker club to ask questions about portraying Ace’s organization. Ultimately, my characters and world are written with love and respect. With all the chaos, magic, violence, sex, and politics, I hope that it shows through to my readers.

Q. Maria seems very empowered. Do you consider her a feminist character?

A. In the deepest sense, yes. A lot of her story is about finding her strength. While she is a deeply flawed character, and her relationships show that, she builds her own beauty and creates her own life.

Q. Do you find any challenges related to writing as a woman in male dominated genres?

A. I touched on some of it. There is more judgement. A character who grows, adapts, loves, fails, and picks themselves up to try again gets looked at differently if it is a female as opposed to a male character.

Q. How was it outing yourself as an author at your first public event as a creator, Chico-Con?

A. On one hand it was terrifying. I found myself alone and facing an intimidating task. For much of the event I was handing out fliers. It was irksome to explain that I didn’t have books to sell yet. On the other, it built my confidence to be in public promoting my writing.

It is of note that I was the only female writer at the event. The guys at the con were welcoming. However, I find it odd that in nerd spaces I am either welcomed and protected as a woman, or cross-examined and shunned. It is strange to rarely be treated as just another face in the crowd.

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Black Magic Women on Stoker Recommended Reads!

•August 9, 2018 • 2 Comments

The anthology I edited,  anthology, Black Magic Women, is on the HWA Bram Stoker Recommendation List! If you are a Stoker juror and want a free eBook of it please email me at sumikoska@yahoo.com. For a hard copy contact the publisher, Mocha Memoirs at mochamemoirspress@gmail.com.

Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters

Black Magic Women ebookcover.jpg

Imagine horror where black characters aren’t all tropes and the first to die; imagine a world written by black sisters where black women and femmes are in the starring roles. From flesh-eating plants to flesh-eating bees; zombies to vampires to vampire-eating vampire hunters; ghosts, revenants, witches and werewolves, this book has it all. Cursed drums, cursed dolls, cursed palms, ancient spirits and goddesses create a nuanced world of Afrocentric and multicultural horror. Seventeen terrifying tales by seventeen of the scary sisters profiled in the reference guide “100 Black Women in Horror.”

Includes the stories Appreciation by Mina Polina, Death Lines by Nuzo Onoh, Sweet Justice by Kenesha Williams, Bryannah and the Magic Negro by Crystal Connor, The Lost Ones by Valjeanne Jeffers, Tango of a TellTale Heart by Sumiko Saulson, Blood Magnolia by Nicole Givens Kurtz, Labor Pains by Kenya Moss-Dyme, Return to Me by Lori Titus, Here, Kitty! by LH Moore, Left Hand Torment by R. J. Joseph, Dark Moon’s Curse by Delizhia Jenkins, Killer Queen by Cinsearae S, Sisters by Kai Leakes, Black and Deadly by Dicey Grenor, Trisha and Peter by Kamika Aziza, Alternative™ by Tabitha Thompson, and The Prizewinner by Alledria Hurt.

Published on Mocha Memoirs Press

Dystopian reads from the 1920’s and 1930’s

•July 21, 2018 • 1 Comment

Guest Blog by Carmilla Voiez

author picCarmilla Voiez is a proudly bisexual and mildly autistic introvert who finds writing much easier than verbal communication. A life long Goth, Carmilla lives with a daughter, two cats and a poet by the sea. She is passionate about horror, the alt scene, intersectional feminism, art, nature and animals. When not writing, she gets paid to hang out in a stately home and entertain tourists.

FIND OUT MORE AT – www.carmillavoiez.com

TWITTER – https://twitter.com/CarmillaVoiez

GOODREADS – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4893389.Carmilla_Voiez

FACEBOOK – https://www.facebook.com/Author.Carmilla.Voiez

Dystopian reads from the 1920’s and 1930’s and their relevance today

I read four novels “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis (published in 1935), “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley (published in 1932), “We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin (published in 1924), and “Swastika Night” by Katharine Burdekin (published in 1937). I will summarise the stories and comment on them individually then attempt to tie together their themes and suggest what relevance they might have to modern society and politics.

It Can’t Happen Here

It CantLiberal, Doremus Jessop, is forced to break laws, write and distribute seditious material, and smuggle people out of America when a populist government led by president Buzz Windrip quickly reveals its true fascist colours.

The book seems spookily precognitive in its descriptions of Buzz’s speeches and the backgrounds and beliefs of those closest to him in government. In may ways this might have been written about Trump 80 years before his election.

Promises are made to elevate the poor white males and pay them well. Wars are declared to pacify the restless populous when those things promised do not materialise. Concentration camps take the place of colleges and universities and labour camps ensure full (if not gainful) employment.

Most of it is written (ironically) as if propaganda for Buzz’s Corpoism regime. This grew old fairly quickly. I think the book’s worth remains one of warning rather than elegant prose.

Brave New World

220px-BraveNewWorld_FirstEditionWhat would a world without war or hunger, where everyone is happy, look like? In Brave New World, Huxley considers this, both from the perspective of independent thinking insiders like Bernard Manx, and from the perspective of a complete outsider, John Savage.

This is a world still potentially in our future, but we can see some of the techniques used at play already – soma (our Prozac nation), non-threatening music (our sanitized pop tunes), and distraction (our pointless TV shows and celebrity culture).

Brave New World can be seen as a Utopia or a terrifying dystopia dependent on how you view diversity and solitude. In this world murder is a lesser offence than unorthodoxy, because a murder kills one person whereas unorthodoxy threatens the whole society. Years are spent brainwashing citizens to stifle independent thought. Everyone belongs to everyone. No one is born, they are grown in bottles and distilled as infants. Eugenics allow people to be custom made to fit their assigned roles in society. There is no class mobility, there is no pain, there is no struggle. There is only work and consumption.

It is a chilling novel about the loss of self, or it is a gentle novel about how society could work better without the friction of diversity and selfishness. Mustapha Mond sums up this choice in the latter pages of the book, from which I will give you some quotes. He has to choose between Truth and Happiness, and he chooses happiness not for himself but for everyone.

“People are happy; the get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get.”

“Each one of us … goes through life inside a bottle. But if we happen to be Alphas, our bottles are, relatively speaking, enormous.”

“… he’s being sent to a place where he’ll meet the most interesting set of men and women to be found anywhere in the world. All the people who, for one reason or another, have got too self-consciously individual to fit into community-life.”

Is this our ultimate choice, war or loss of individuality? It’s a fascinating question, as relevant today as when the book was written. More than that the story surrounding the question is strong, the characters are believable and the prose is beautifully written. Even those events that may seem implausible work in the greater narrative.

We

We Yevgeny ZamyatinThe story is set in a world of identity-less organisms (ciphers) that make up a community referred to as We. A society with strict rules dictated by science and rationality with no room for individuality. In this Russian dystopia, as with “Brave New World”, pairing off into couples is dissuaded. It is usual for groups of four to walk and talk together rather than two or three. Days are carefully structured by the use of timetables. There is no privacy, even in their rooms. Instead of names the ciphers are designated a letter followed by numbers which matches the glass room in which they reside. Sex is organised through a system of pink slips and it seems as though consent isn’t a consideration and lack of consent is unthought of. In this world the annual election of the Benefactor is celebrated as a holiday equal to Christmas or Easter, looked forward to with excitement. Everyone gets a vote, but whoever does not vote for the Benefactor is eradicated as a threat to the community.

One interesting point is the perseverance of difference even in this society of dehumanised, nameless ciphers. Our hero sees those around him often in terms of their designated letter – O is round and plump, I is skinny and S has a curved and misshapen posture. It’s subtly done, but helps make our hero’s dilemma later seem more natural.

As with “Brave New World” people are treated as children, incapable of independent thought. A benevolent dictator, the Benefactor, rules their lives completely and they are, on the whole, grateful for this. They are protected, by a glass dome, from the ills, diseases and discomfort of the outside wilderness. Oil based foods are produced to satisfy hunger. Exercise is prescribed within the carefully planned timetable. And everyone is content.

The story centres around D503, the builder of the Integral, a space ship that will send their message of science and rationality to assumed primitive lifeforms on other worlds. As with “Brave New World” and to a lesser degree “It Can’t Happen Here” it is a woman, I330, who disrupts D503’s structured existence and causes in him a sickness he refers to as a soul. I330 is dangerous, subversive, appears and disappears in dreamlike irrational ways. She represents chaos within this ordered world. 1330 changes D503 on such a fundamental level that he no longer knows what is real. He acts against the interests of the Benefactor and the community without thinking about what he is doing or why, simply to get closer to this enigmatic woman.

When threatened by I330 and the group she appears to lead, the State react by operating on all the ciphers to remove their imaginations. A scientific procedure to return the organism of We to its stable state. D503 sees the beautiful simplicity of this procedure and much of him wants to be cured of his soul.

D503 tells his story in journal form and in so doing provides evidence against himself and others. It is the naivety of the ciphers that makes them both compelling and terrifying. Yet, within the context of the story, that innocence makes sense. Cynicism is primitive.

An amazing book, which was apparently banned in the USSR. We is an essential part of 20th century dystopian  literature and reveals perhaps the roots of Orwell’s 1984.

Swastika Night

Swastika NightPossibly the most troubling of the four dystopian books I have read, at least from a woman’s point of view. Women are all but completely absent from the story, and from the society. It is set 720 years after the second world war. Germany won and Nazi’s now rule all of Europe and Africa. The Japanese rule Asia and America (although they are only mentioned in passing in the story).

The action happens in Germany and England (a subject nation). While Alfred (an English engineer) is visiting the Holy Land (Germany) he meets a German knight, Von Hess. Von Hess’s family are in possession of a secret book that reveals some of the pre Hitler history the Nazi’s have eradicated everywhere else. Von Hess is old and his sons are dead. In Alfred he sees someone who may be able to protect the book and save the history contained within it from destruction.

The society is organised thus – Hitler (long dead) is worshipped as God. Der Feuhrer is the dictator of half the world. German Knights serve as government, the heads of churches and military leaders. German Nazis (all male) are the next most important and powerful group. The members of subject nations (like our Englishman) are below them and do much of the work in exchange for rations. Romantic relationships are always homosexual. Masculinity is worshipped especially in its most violent forms.

German and subject nations’ women are caged and kept as breeding stock. Their heads are shaven and they wear ugly robes and learn to stoop rather than stand straight. The idea of women is repulsive and therefore men are legally obliged to mate with them to breed, but love is between men only. We learn that women were complicit in their own degradation, believing that complete submission would make the men love them more. Now they are despised, but have no strength, education or pride to try and reverse their situation. The birth of sons is celebrated and sons are removed from their mothers by eighteen months to live with their fathers. Giving birth to a girl is a shameful matter, but these stay with their mothers in the caged communities. The trouble, of which only the knights and Feuhrer are aware, is that very few girls are now born and society is fast approaching a crisis point.

Jews have been eradicated completely and now Christians are treated as a subhuman underclass, the untouchables. While they shun aggressive action they are left alone. Their women are also viewed as soulless animals, but they remain in patriarchal family groups and are not caged.

Alfred returns to England with the precious and forbidden book to find he has fathered a daughter. Having read about historical women, his idea of the soulless animal is challenged, and against all protocol he holds his daughter in his arms. He wants to save her from the cage and the degradation of her mother and other women, but he is powerless to do so.

He is not certain that women are in fact soulless animals who do not feel suffering. He says in the book –

“There’s an explanation why women always live according to an imposed pattern, because they are not women at all, and never have been. They are not themselves. Nothing can be, unless it knows it is superior to everything else. No man could believe God was She. No woman could believe God was He. It would be making God inferior.”

“There are two things that women have never had which men have had, of a developing and encouraging nature. One is sexual invulnerability and the other is pride in their sex, which is the humblest boy’s birthright.”

Alfred and Von Hess also agree that the males of this society are not men (they have not reached that stage of maturity and independence) but are kept as boys, enjoying childish distractions.

It’s a terrifying book because we can see where the baby steps of removing birth control and restricting women’s rights can lead. It’s a timely wakeup call considering the actions of nations like the US in destroying planned parenthood in the name of religion. It’s brilliantly written in that you cannot feel complete sympathy for anyone, which of course is how this dystopian society is organised. If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale, I urge you to read this book as well.

Summary

All four books agree that the way to run a society dependent on the State is by keeping us in a permanent state of childhood. Ensuring that what we desire is freely available and removing the need for individual decision making. In our modern consumerist society of available credit, lack of hunger and sexual outlets we are reaching that childhood state.

In all four books history and facts are changed to suit the needs of the State. We hear that we are becoming a post-truth society. We have reached a level of anti-intellectualism that means many will argue their opinion is worth as much as researched evidence.

In all four books an underclass is required – be it women, an entire religion, other nations or simply outsiders. If you want to know where modern society is at on this point click to any news station or read any newspaper.

Will we reach such a level of dystopia as shown in these books? On a worldwide basis perhaps we already have. Suicide nets outside Apple factories being the perfect example. In the first world I suspect we have a few more baby steps to take before we reach that point. Give us a hundred years or so. When food and water become scarcities and it is harder to provide everything people want to keep them passive and we may find out what kind of dystopia is in store for our world.

Hypnosis In Horror – You are getting very scary…

•July 16, 2018 • Leave a Comment

About Dexter Williams

img_8263.jpgAn award-winning screenwriter who has been writing screenplays for two decades.  He has a huge love for the horror genre and has written five feature film scripts and four short film scripts.  One of his feature film scripts, “Demon Crystal”, was recently optioned by Pulse Pounding Productions.  Virtually all of his scripts have been recognized by major film festivals.

Guest Blog by Dexter Williams

Hypnosis In Horror – You are getting very scary…

I consider horror to be the very best genre in the world, and I consider hypnotism to be the most intriguing subject in the world.  When the worlds of horror and hypnotism come together, they make for a very potent combination.  Believe it or not, it has been that way since Hollywood started making horror movies.  And it was a count from Transylvania that started this unlikely cinematic trend.

In 1931, Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi was introduced to audiences as the definitive Count Dracula.  With his cold-eyed stare, he hypnotized his victims and turned them into mindless slaves.  And of course, he soon transformed them into vampires.  He was the first vampire to use hypnotic powers, but he would not be the last.  Five years later, the world was introduced to “Dracula’s Daughter”.  She had the powers of hypnosis as well, but her hypnotic tool of choice was a shiny round golden ring.  It was one of the few horror films in which a female put people under her hypnotic control.

Through the years, hypnotism has played a small or large role in many horror films.  A few examples are: “The She-Creature” (1956), “The Undead” (1957), “Horrors of the Black Museum” (a Hypno-Vista film from 1959), “The Hypnotic Eye” (1960), and “Devil Doll” (1964).  These films reflected the fact that hypnosis was a male-dominated field, with a male hypnotist hypnotizing female patients (or test subjects).

There are some horror movies from the 1980s and 1990s that greatly influenced my wanting to combine scares and the power of suggestion.  1987’s “Anguish”, a movie-within-a-movie from Spain, had Zelda Rubinstein of “Poltergeist” playing a controlling mother who used hypnosis to make her son steal other people’s eyeballs and return them to her.  She uses her voice and a metronome to induce the state.  Another film from 1987 was “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors”.  In this film, a metronome with an LED light was used to hypnotize the patients at a psychiatric hospital into entering the dream world in order to take on the film’s main antagonist Freddy Krueger.

1999 saw the release of two very chilling films from different countries.  First there’s “Stir of Echoes”, a supernatural adapted for the screen and directed by David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”, “Secret Window”) and based on the novel by Richard Matheson.  The hypnosis scene in this film has the lead character played by Kevin Bacon (“Tremors) getting hypnotized by his sister-in-law played by Illeana Douglas (“Cape Fear”) into tapping into his ability to see ghosts; he later has visions of a teenage girl who disappeared a while back.  Next there’s “Saimin”, a horror film from Japan, in which the hypnotist character (using a solid lighting flame) may be linked to a string of bizarre suicides.  There is another scene from “”Saimin” in which a spinning spiral is used to hypnotize a patient that is quite eerie and surreal.

Last year (2017) saw the release of the much talked-about very successful satirical horror film “Get Out”, written and directed by Jordan Peele (who won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the film).  Hypnosis plays a pivotal role in this film’s story, most notably the scene in which Daniel Kaluuya’s main character gets hypnotized by the psychiatrist mother of his white girlfriend, played by Catherine Keener.  Keener uses a cup of tea stirring it with the click of a spoon to induce the hypnotic state and lead Kaluuya to what she calls in the film “the sunken place”.  That was a very chilling scene in the film.

Virtually all of the horror screenplays I have written, both features and shorts, have hypnotism playing a pivotal role.  Hypnosis is a subject that has fascinated me since I was a teen, and writing it into screenplays was a natural progression for me.

 

First, I want you to consider “Enslavement”.  That is a feature script that took me just two weeks to finish, and it’s the first of my horror scripts to include hypnotism.  In the story, a dangerous Goth girl hypnotizes a shy high school student into joining her sinister goddess-worshiping cult.  The 1996 teen horror film “The Craft”, and especially Fairuza Balk’s amazing performance, was a major influence on “Enslavement”.  Mind manipulation is taken to a terrifying level with this story, which is a cautionary tale about hypnotism being used for all the wrong reasons.

 

Now, consider “Mistresses of Sleep”.  In this particular story, a young lady receives an unusual invitation to visit one of three mysterious hypnotists to unlock the secret of her recurring nightmares of death and destruction.  Why three hypnotists?  I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that reincarnation is in the mix.  I wanted to explore the concept of hypnosis and reincarnation in a way that has never been done before, and of course make it scary.

Mixing horror and hypnotism is a concept Hollywood films should explore more.  Doing so will no doubt cast a frightening spell on moviegoers who have the stomach to go see these films.

 

Basement Beauty by Carmilla Voiez (Excerpt)

•July 14, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Guest Blog by Carmilla Voiez

1779138_512295965551070_207854951_nCarmilla Voiez is a proudly bisexual and mildly autistic introvert who finds writing much easier than verbal communication. A life long Goth, Carmilla lives with a daughter, two cats and a poet by the sea. She is passionate about horror, the alt scene, intersectional feminism, art, nature and animals. When not writing, she gets paid to hang out in a stately home and entertain tourists.

FIND OUT MORE AT – www.carmillavoiez.com

TWITTER – https://twitter.com/CarmillaVoiez

GOODREADS – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4893389.Carmilla_Voiez

FACEBOOK – https://www.facebook.com/Author.Carmilla.Voiez

Excerpt from Basement Beauty (in Broken Mirror)

Broken Mirror and Other Morbid Tales by [Voiez, Carmilla]‘You’re too beautiful to be killed, Tay,’ Lynsey assured her, brushing a manicured hand through freshly lightened hair.

‘What the fuck do you mean?’ Amalthea shook her head, jostling afro curls and revealing a petulant frown that drew her plump cheeks inwards.

‘Aint you heard? All the victims were ugly. Aint gonna happen to you, kiddo.’

Amalthea gazed at the empty pint glass in her hands. ‘Ugly?’

‘Yeah, not grotesque freaks or anything, just plain ugly: big noses, crooked teeth, greasy hair, you know. When I went to the dentist this morning they told me everyone and their f’in dog’s booked in for cosmetic work.’

‘Isn’t that odd?’ Amalthea rotated the glass this way and that between caramel fingers.

Lynsey shrugged. ‘Dunno.’

‘I think it’s odd.’

‘Whatever, girl. Just stop stressing, okay. You’re too beautiful to die.’

Amalthea glanced over the bar at the almost empty nightclub. ‘Seems quiet tonight.’

‘Yeah, well it’s still early. Heard there’s a gig on. Lots of people probably there. They’ll lurch in here eventually.’ Lynsey wiped down the dark wood counter with a damp, blue cloth.

‘Hope so. Drags when it’s this quiet.’ Amalthea placed the clean glass on a shelf at knee level. ‘Makes me want to open a book.’

Lynsey nodded. ‘Why don’t you? Hey, you alright for a minute if I pop out for a ciggie?’

Amalthea nodded toward the dimly lit room and grimaced. ‘Uh yeah. I think I can manage these three alone.’

‘Cheers, babes.’ Lynsey kissed Amalthea’s cheek and exited through a door between rows of optics.

Amalthea dried another glass from the crate and set it on the shelf. She repeated the action until the crate was empty without being disturbed by customers. When she looked up again she noticed a young man had entered the club and was strolling towards her. She recognised him from poetry nights. As always, he arrived alone. This evening he carried a slender book. She tried to see the cover, but it was angled away from her.

‘Hi,’ she said as he sat on a stool.

He smiled warmly. He was pretty, for a white boy. His skin seemed to have the soft glow of health that was rare in young men from this Scottish city. He reminded Amalthea of the father she hadn’t seen in over a decade, except this lad was even paler and his eyes resembled emeralds held in front of a flame.

‘Coffee, please.’

Amalthea nodded. She had never known him to order alcohol. Most of the patrons were ardent drinkers and this boy… man stood out for his lack of inebriation. Was he was still too young to drink or was he a recovering alcoholic? Would he frequent a club if he had a drinking problem? It was more likely that he simply found other ways to relax – those words clutched in his hand or the ones in his head? He fascinated her, although she wasn’t sure why. Physically, sexually, he wasn’t her type at all, but there was something about his gentle calm that attracted her and what better time to strike up a conversation than a quiet night like this?

She switched on the coffee machine and poured in freshly ground beans.

‘Seems quiet,’ he said.

‘Very,’ she answered. ‘What brings you here tonight? I normally just see you on poetry nights.’

‘You notice?’ he asked and his eyes gleamed brighter.

She stepped back and swallowed. Not another one? This club was full of would-be creeps and admirers. It was often hard to tell the difference between the two from this side of the bar. She hastily backtracked. ‘Sure. I know all my regulars. Do you write poetry?’

‘I’m not sure it’s any good.’

‘Ahhh, you should perform a piece here one night. It’s a friendly crowd. They won’t bite.’

He laughed. ‘Yeah, maybe. It could be fun to perform for… everyone, I guess. Do you write?’

‘Prose,’ she answered. ‘Nothing published. What book is that?’

‘Not mine. I’ve not been published either. A bit of Plath.’ He flashed the cover at her.

‘You like Sylvia Plath?’

‘I guess I have a thing for desperate sorrow.’ His face flushed and he suddenly appeared vulnerable.

She nodded, warming to him again. ‘There’s a lot of that in this town.’

‘I’m Daniel.’ He extended his exquisitely manicured right hand towards her.

Her hand met his half way across the bar. Her chewed fingernails, chipped purple polish and brown skin made an interesting contrast, worker versus what – public school boy, intellectual, rich kid? He seemed so different to her and yet the same. It confused her. It always did when she met people from such different backgrounds with a shared love of words. ‘Amalthea,’ she said. ‘Or Tay.’

‘Delighted to make your acquaintance, Amalthea. Do you work here every night?’

‘Almost.’

The machine’s noise altered as the dripping coffee filled a cream-coloured mug. She passed Daniel a black coffee with no sugar – his usual order.

‘Thank you.’ He nodded and took a sip. ‘And what do you do when you aren’t here?’

‘Sleep, write, oh and I’m studying English at the Uni.’

‘Busy…’ He seemed pensive for a moment. He teetered on the edge of something. Whatever it was, he decided not to ask. Instead he stood up and picked up his mug. ‘Thank you, Taya,’ he said and walked to a leather chair below a green spotlight.

Lynsey bustled back through the door, dragging cold air and the stench of tobacco with her. ‘Did I miss anything?’

‘Not much. I put the glasses away and we have a new customer.’

Lynsey stared across at Daniel and exhaled. ‘Seen him before, a bit of an odd ball, quiet, always alone.’

Amalthea nodded. ‘Maybe that’s the way he likes it.’

Amalthea stood outside the unlit entrance to The Pit and breathed in the cool, pre-dawn air. One hand brushed wild curls from her mouth and tucked them behind her ear. They sprang back across her cheek immediately, untameable.

As her skin acclimatised she drew jacket sleeves over her arms. A movement at the edge of her vision attracted her attention and she peered towards the shadowy alley where the night club bins were stored. Her direct gaze didn’t reveal any ghoul, goblin, animal or person skulking in the darkness, watching and waiting for her to leave, but her mind created a sinister shape anyway. For the past six weeks the evening news had continually reported unnatural deaths city-wide. Rumours of a modern day Jack the Ripper were rife. Now every alleyway had become hostile territory and every shadow a killer, preparing to strike.

With her meditative moments, of simply being, stolen by fear of the impenetrable darkness, Amalthea decided to button her coat and get moving. Home wasn’t far away, a mere ten minute walk and at four in the morning most of the drunks were already home, sleeping it off, or standing, unsteadily in taxi queues, waiting for chariots to return them safely to their beds. That was one thing to be said about fear of what might lurk the dark – it was good for the economy.

Gentle but pervasive drizzle vainly attempted to flatten her hair. Street lights mutated into dancing constellations and pavements were dotted with quicksilver puddles. Amalthea’s boots leaked and the liquid made her toes squelch. Sucking and dripping sounds masked the noise of her footsteps and the perfectly matched slapping of shoe leather behind her. Of course, when she glanced back, the street was empty, but the moment she faced forwards she felt his presence behind her, as always, matching her stride. He was the shadow from which she fled, unseen but perceived through all her other senses, making her hairline tingle – the man who wasn’t there.

She had tried to tell Lynsey of this consuming fear, but her friend hadn’t understood, dismissing her fears as paranoia. She decided in the future to only mention this deep, primal knowledge to her diary and wondered for one terrifying moment whether his other victims had known they were being hunted, but had kept silent or were disbelieved until the moment their vacated shells were discovered. She considered why she had dogmatically given this disembodied threat a male gender then shook her head. It was perfectly natural; serial killers were almost always male, weren’t they? The one who kills me will probably be male too, she reasoned.

Her scalp itched. Realising the utter pointlessness of another backwards glance, she balled her fists and marched onwards. Just five more minutes and she could lock the darkness outside, for what that was worth.

A shriek broke through the pittering-pattering shroud of raindrops. It echoed between tall Victorian town houses, converted into flats and bedsits – a cat or a baby waking from a nightmare? She waited for a repeat of the noise until she became aware that she had stopped moving and was standing as still as a statue as the rain continued to fall around and upon her. The sound didn’t return. Shivering, she willed her right foot to make its journey, one step forwards and asked her hip to tilt and her knee to bend. Movement didn’t follow her commands so she concentrated on her left foot instead – still nothing. Swallowing hard, she wiggled the toes of her left foot. Water moved between skin and cotton; the sensation made her nauseous.

‘Just walk, Tay,’ she whispered.

Rain hissed in her ears. Beneath her chin a waterfall tumbled onto her chest.

‘Just walk… five minutes!’

Ahead of her a tree that overhung the path shook water from its leaves like a huge dog. Large drops splattered as they hit the ground. What waited beyond that tree, hidden behind the trunk? She considered taking a longer route home where the streets were less shadowy and the traffic more regular.

Shivering from cold and fear, she watched as the heavy branches bent and purged until the urge to vomit returned. One hand stretched out to a rough red-brick wall beside her, knees bent and hips angled yet her feet remained bolted to the spot.

How many had been killed already this year – ten, no twelve, would she be the thirteenth? She shook her head; this fear was not rational. She wasn’t being hunted and her home was a mere five minute walk from this spot. Five minutes… she could walk for five minutes. Five minutes… no distance at all, yet one step forwards felt beyond her reach.

‘Tay, get a grip!’ Her mind used her mother’s voice, dominant, matriarchal and full of a rich, musical patois. She nodded, fighting her foolishness and the paralysing fear of what – a tree, a shadow and a lone shriek? What set her off this time? ‘You is fierce, a powerful woman. This shit is beneath you, Amalthea. You shame me.’

Amalthea pushed against the wall, straightening her hips and knees. Raising her head, she blinked diamonds from her eyes. The raindrops altered their route and formed puddles within the cradles of her earlobes. With Herculean effort, she stepped forward. Once freed from their traps her legs adopted their natural rhythm. Swift and sure she passed beneath the branches as a single sphere fell and trickled between her neck and jacket collar. In less than five minutes she reached home, pushing bolts into place and turning keys in locks.

The breath she took filled her lungs with warm, dry air. She gulped it down as though it was her first breath then headed for the bathroom and a towel.

 

Writing Horror While Trying to Avoid Stereotypes

•July 6, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Guest Blog by Carmilla Voiez

1779138_512295965551070_207854951_nCarmilla Voiez is a proudly bisexual and mildly autistic introvert who finds writing much easier than verbal communication. A life long Goth, Carmilla lives with a daughter, two cats and a poet by the sea. She is passionate about horror, the alt scene, intersectional feminism, art, nature and animals. When not writing, she gets paid to hang out in a stately home and entertain tourists.

FIND OUT MORE AT – www.carmillavoiez.com

TWITTER – https://twitter.com/CarmillaVoiez

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Writing Horror While Trying to Avoid Stereotypes

It’s not as easy as it sounds. While tropes, cliches and stereotypes might be easy to spot in others work, they can become embedded in our psyches and spill out into the stories we tell.

While preparing for a panel discussion on the subject I realised how many tropes I’d inadvertently included in my own work, including the dreaded demonic pregnancy trope.

Cliches and tropes are common in all sorts of genres. They are familiar signposts in a story due to our shared cultural exposure to them, but at the same time they are frustrating and limiting. I love it when tropes are inverted, and you get that aha moment. There are so many gender stereotypes, particularly in horror – the aforementioned demonic pregnancy, the violent psychopathic male with mommy issues, the possessive mother, the jealous stepmother, the abusive father and/or stepfather. The femme fatale cliché, oh but those women can be so damn sexy. Cliches don’t appear out of thin air. They are overused themes and characters and can make writing predictable. I suspect their frequent use is in part why genres like horror rarely get serious recognition within literary circles.

Alora2

So cliches tell us what to expect.

Like the one about the heroine finding her strength after being violently raped. I hate that one. The pornification of torture worries me, both in and outside the horror genre. It can cross into erotica and that is pretty dangerous when you consider the real world’s penchant for violence against women. There are other types of women in horror too: the princess in the tower, the trophy to be won, and they are all tropes that bleed out into the real world, both in male and female imaginations, fetishizing feminine weakness and making it seem somehow precious. However, women were being tortured and killed for kicks before the horror genre, so an argument can be made that it’s simply reflecting society. Either way I don’t like it. It turns me off stories quicker than anything else.

Cliches help writers by providing template characters.

I’m a member of a number of writers groups on social media and it is surprising how many male writers are afraid of writing female characters. I like Gustave Flaubert’s argument that when he wrote Madame Bovary he was simply writing himself. We are far more similar, men and women, than we are different in our essential beings. It is only our outside experience of the world that seems at odds. It might seem strange that men feel this fear of writing women, when female writers frequently write men. However a quick look at the stories we all grow up reading and watching shows that male is the default, as is white, in almost all our entertainment and certainly in books. Darren Chetty wrote a piece that was included in “The Good Immigrant”[i] called ‘You can’t say that! Stories have to be about white people’, about his experience teaching ethnically diverse students in East London. In summary when these children wrote stories they always had white characters with English names, because that was what they had read.

Gender as plot.

Alora1

 

There are so many horror tropes surrounding female characters that it is hard to navigate at times. Your typical horror villain is a white man with mommy issues, and your typical victims are attractive young women, frequently used as sexualized fodder or there to be saved by the male hero. This isn’t all horror is, of course, but it is what many of us think of, especially when we aren’t working in supernatural horror where we do find more super-powered women.

When we are dealing with a slasher or serial killer story the last victim standing is termed the Final Girl. There women are rarely characterized beyond their ability to survive, meaning that they fall neatly into the stereotype of victim. Even a victim who survives is still a victim. They can also stand as a warning to would-be male aggressors that some kittens have claws, but even in that role they are often sexualized because of their aggression in a sub/dom kickass survivor way. There’s a racial element to the Final Girl as well. I can’t think of a Final Girl who’s a woman of color. And lest we forget the moral, Final Girls are pure, virginal and good, even if they aren’t technically virgins their innocence is part of the drama. When the final girl is well drawn she can be empowering, but, as happens more often than not, when she is simply a plot device it is frustrating.

How do we avoid cliches?

As I said at the start it is easier said than done, but if we draw our characters fully rather than rely on stereotypes we’re at least part way there. For the panel discussions we looked at some of our own characters and to what extent the fell into or avoided gender stereotypes. I chose four characters from The Starblood Trilogy.

11512156Star, my female protagonist, is hero and victim simultaneously. She is victimized because she has lost her sense of self – something that was happening to me at the time. She is easily manipulated, but her inner strength does win out. I guess you could classify her as a Final Girl (although she isn’t the last one standing). She seems annoyingly passive at times, drifting through the story, but when she realizes her own strength, ironically through torture, she does become powerful and eventually can save herself.

Satori, my male protagonist, is in part hapless hero and in part anti-hero. Like Star, he develops throughout the book and becomes gradually less self-involved. He is the reason bad things happen to him and his friends, even if he is the one that fights against evil and tries to save Star. I wrote him this way because he is unaware of his impact on the world. He comes from a position of privilege, although he isn’t what you’d call an alpha male, and in fact is the victim of male violence in the books. He’s my self-defined good guy. He sees Star as a human being, but at the same time resents her for leaving him.

Lilith, my female antagonist, is definitely a villain, although some readers have claimed she’s a feminist hero. She is a survivor of assault, there we go again, but her extreme strength and power have warped her perspective of fairness and cruelty. While her end goal is not evil, her acts certainly are. Lilith frequently inverts the sexual stereotypes, but can do so because she is a supernatural creature.

Freya, is a vital support character. She is a villain, but often sympathetic. Without Freya none of the strands of the story would come together. She works against Satori and with Lilith. She too is a victim of the terrible events of her childhood, but it does not excuse her actions. She is the most messed up and powerful character in the trilogy, and I love her for it. Unlike Star, she is the Final Girl, and I’m tempted to continue her story beyond the trilogy. She provides a strong, human, female character who works behind the scenes and is all the more effective for sticking to the shadows. There is nothing that can be taken from her that will cause her to fall apart. She’s like a force of nature. She’s what happens when we’ve already hit rock bottom and there’s no where left to fall. I think if anything, Freya is the one who manages to avoid the gender stereotypes.

[i]
[i]      The Good Immigrant, ed. Nikesh Shukla, published by Unbound, London, 2016

The top photo is of the author. The middle two photos are Alora Mishell Wolf her Instagram is @aloralaura

Interview with V.H. Galloway, author of

•July 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Author Bio:

Goolge+V.H. Galloway is a novelist of Science Fiction and Fantasy and graduate of the Viable Paradise Workshop. Born in the Ft. Greene section of Brooklyn, N.Y., she has become a bit of a rolling stone. A resident of Austin, TX, she has also lived in Ohio, California, and Nevada. She is still in search of a place to call home.
Buy links:
Book 1 – The Un-United States of Z – https://amzn.to/2sDFrP5
Book 2: The Rotting Road – https://amzn.to/2szTo0A
Book 3: The Refugee Prophet – https://amzn.to/2M4CEq8

Book Description:

zcover-300In a near-future Los Angeles, Dr. Zen Marley is torn between two conflicting realities: his buried southern roots and his preppy west coast professor persona. He must travel home to face the reality of his mother’s failing mental health. But he finds an aberration: a monstrous impostor wearing the rotted shell of his mother’s skin. In a twisted case of self-defense, he kills her, but not before he is also infected.

With his humanity eroding, Zen sets off on a cross-country quest through a racially divided America to rescue his sister, find a cure, and stop the advance of the sentient flesh-eating army led by his highly intelligent, but psychotic former student. This is the first installment of The Un-United States of Z trilogy.

Interview:

Q. What inspired you to create Dr. Zen Marley as a character.

A. I share just a couple things in common with Zen as a character. I’ve lived on the West Coast and have family in South Carolina – spent quite a bit of time there under the watchful eyes of my grandmother, aunts, uncles and extended family. And over time, it became increasingly difficult to make the long trek back for visits – something I regret. Though that aspect of my life is the bud from which Zen bloomed, that, as they say, is where the similarities end. Disillusionment and his mother’s illness have caused Zen to turn away from home, from his roots.

Q. Dr. Zen Marley has southern roots and travels back home; how much does the Southern Gothic horror genre inform his experience and genre?

A. Zen tries, I mean, tries really hard to cover his southern roots. But as anyone born in the south or who spends significant time there knows, his attempts prove futile. It’s in his blood. And this becomes more evident once he lands in South Carolina and during the ensuing trip through the south. On his own and through periodic tongue lashing reminders from his sister, Zen comes to appreciate and embrace his southern upbringing and that foundation of strength. The zombies (rotters), presented with a significant twist, also stem from Southern Gothic hoodoo tropes.

Q. The Southern Gothic horror convention often touches upon ghosts of the dark legacy of the south, such as Jim Crow, segregation, the Mann Act and slavery. Does your story do so at all?

A. Absolutely. This story poses a question – What would America do if we really turned out to be the monsters they envision? And without giving too much away, Zen learns that America in many ways is as divided as it was during that not-so-distant time in our history. And that it only takes something small to re-ignite those old flames.

Q. I am from Los Angeles – how much is it in the story, and how does Dr. Zen Marley’s experience there differ from the South?

A. The first book of the trilogy begins in the South Carolina. Book 2 – The Rotting Road, takes Zen and his companions on a road trip through much of the southern U.S. The final book of the trilogy – The Refugee Prophet – is centered in Los Angeles. This is where it all goes down. Zen takes on his foe – his former student, Idriss who has a vision that puts Black people at the top of the new food chain. By then, America is largely apocalyptic. Los Angeles is the place where Zen has built his post-southern life and combined with his reaffirmation of the importance of the past, being back helps set him on more firm footing. This bolsters his confidence for the battle that is to come.

Q. A lot of people are up in arms about the current political situation, and I have read that zombie stories become very popular during Republican presidencies because of our fears about conformity – whereas Democrats inspire vampire stories due to the fear of licentious behavior and sexual perversion. Do you think there is any truth to this?

A. Fascinating! While I’d love to dive into the data supporting this, I can say that throughout history, we have examples of how real life impacts art. So, for me, it’s a given that the current socio-political climate can inform art.

Q. If so, do you think any of the tropes or images in your story relate to the current political situation, and how?

A. The Un-United States of Z was actually written prior to the most recent election. Still, it’s a story about zombies – black zombies, at that. And these aren’t your run-of-the-mill flesh eaters, they’re sentient, angry, and determined to right some wrongs of the past. If that doesn’t relate to the current political climate, I don’t know what does.

Q. How do you feel about writing horror as a woman? Does it pose any specific challenges?

A. To even debate the challenges that a woman horror writer faces is folly. It’s a given, not something to ponder. There are folks that simply only want stories by and about people who remind them of themselves, luckily, I’m not one of them. A good book goes a long way toward breaking down those barriers. I, in turn, must focus have laser-focus on the things that I can control. That means: improving my craft, reading widely from other authors I admire, and supporting/helping other writers.

Q.  Do you feel you have faced any exceptional challenges as a black horror writer, and how has it informed your views as a writer?

A. Some call it two strikes, I call it two assets. Writing from the perspective of a black woman gives me an opportunity to introduce others to a fairly unfamiliar voice. My job is to write well and to continue to grow. As much as we’d like to, we can’t control the readers.

Q. What do you have on the drawing board that our readers can expect to see from you next?

A. A good writer is always thinking about the next project.  I am currently shopping a fantasy novel with agents. Also on tap are several short stories in various stages of completion and a new novel set in New Orleans, a horror-fantasy mashup.