BY NADIA GERASSIMENKO
Leza Cantoral is the author of Planet Mermaid and editor of Walk Hand in Hand Into Extinction: Stories Inspired by True Detective. She writes a feminist column about noir film for Luna Luna Magazine called Shades of Noir and writes about pop culture for Clash Media. Her upcoming collection of short stories, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest, will be coming out later this year through Bizarro Pulp Press. You can find her short stories at lezacantoralblog.wordpress.com and tweet her at @lezacantoral.
Leza, tell us a bit about yourself as a person and a writer.
I was born in Mexico and my family moved to the US when I was 12. I spent high school in the suburbs of Chicago and then I went to college in Vermont. Now I live with my boyfriend and his two cats in the mountains of New Hampshire. It is a pretty idyllic existence for a writer. He is a writer too, so we are always able to give each other feedback and we are each-others editors. He was my rock during this process. I hit a lot of walls with my story and he was there for me. He did not let me quit.
My favorite singer is Lana Del Rey. My favorite poet is Sylvia Plath. My favorite book is Alice in Wonderland.
I began writing poetry when I was about 13 to deal with depression and then I wrote poetry in high school to deal with being in love. It was not till college that I began to seriously consider writing stories. I often write about women who are being violated and exploited. I show what they are feeling and thinking and how they cope and deal with it. I believe that language is oral. Stories are meant to be read aloud. I try to make my stories sensory experiences, like music videos.
We know you write horror fiction. What’s horrific to you? What kind of horror do you want to embed in the mind of your readers?
What scares me is losing control and being broken down and degraded. I have written a lot about women being raped and exploited. I try to convey what it feels like to be raped and abused, to be treated like a sex object, to lose your humanity. Those are the things that really scare me. I want people to know what that feels like to be stripped of your selfhood.
You also write Bizarro fiction. What makes Bizarro literature Bizarro as opposed to just being weird? What criteria must the author meet in order to birth a legitimate Bizarro baby?
The key to Bizarro fiction is high concept. You take an idea that seems completely out there and unbelievable and then you have to make it work. Bizarro is a mudpie genre. It borrows liberally from Surrealism, Dada, Metafiction, Horror, Satire, Expressionism, Cartoons, Videogames, Cult cinema, you name it. When you write a Bizarro book you are basically designing your own religion. Your world follows its own rules of causality but it still follows the rules of character development and plot arcs.
Planet Mermaid is a spinoff on The Little Mermaid with an even more horrific albeit plausible storyline and a futuristic twist. What made you decide to write about this one particular fairy tale over another?
I am very inspired by fairy tales. I will continue to draw from them as well as fantasy, horror, and science fiction. I love fairy tales because they are simple and true. Many fairy tales are about rites of passage from girlhood to womanhood. I picked The Little Mermaid because I found the image of a mermaid with a human to be very compelling. I wondered if they would fall in love and what sex would be like between them. I am fascinated by the ocean. It is a strange world that seems as alien to me as outer space. I love the Hans Christian Andersen story. It is very lyrical and haunting. Also, I was disturbed by the misogynistic vibe of the Disney version. I wanted to address some of those things in my own way. I work with materials that both fascinate and repulse me. I mix something pretty with something ugly and my brain tries to make sense of it.
A good writer is able to create believable characters and bring liveliness in them. In Planet Mermaid, not only is the main protagonist Lilia alive and compelling, but it feels like you were able to breathe her in and truly become her. Was it difficult to do so?
She is me but she is not. She is her own person but I drew from my own feelings and experiences. Honestly, I think the story is actually a metaphor about what it was like for me to move from Mexico to the Midwest when I was 12 years old. It was a desolate landscape, just like the surface of Planet Mermaid. There were pros and cons. I lost my friends but I gained new opportunities. I always felt like an alien. My first story in high school was about an alien who falls to earth and gets exploited by Hollywood. Basically if Marilyn Monroe was actually an alien. These themes of alienation and exploitation run through all my work. The hardest part to write was the rape scene. I was stuck for weeks on it. I just could not write it. It was too traumatic for me.
Planet Mermaid reads like prose, but it has more of a poetic feel to it—very lyrical and melodic. It’s also very visually-striking—stark at times, vibrant in other instances. Did any artists in particular influence the way it was written?
I admire the style and language of writers like Vladimir Nabokov, Oscar Wilde, and Marcel Proust. I also love the visceral intensity of horror authors like Poppy Z. Brite and Clive Barker. Tanith Lee and Angela Carter were my main muses, as far as how to do a modernized fairy tale. Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath are my main poetic muses. I love their powerful imagery and how their poetry is beautiful but also raw and emotionally supercharged. Sylvia Plath is my main literary influence. When I read Ariel I wanted to write stories the way she writes poetry. I wanted to recreate that surrealistic horror in prose.
We at Luna Luna also love Lana Del Rey—she’s our goddess and our muse. How did you discover her? Was it love at first ‘hearing’?
My boyfriend, Christoph Paul, is who turned me on to her. A year and a half ago I moved to New York City to follow my heart and be with him. That summer all I listened to was Lana Del Rey. I think he is finally sick of her now because she is all I play. I adore her. I was hooked instantly. She inspires my writing, my fashion, probably even my behavior. When I get into something I go full Method with it. When I was younger Madonna was my muse. I taught myself to sew so I could make costumes and dress up like her. I really thought I was her. In high school Courtney Love was my fashion and literary muse. ‘Live through This’ had a massive influence on my poetry. It has been a while since a muse swept me up like this. Lana has the stuff. She is true raw talent and that is why she is so special. Smoke and mirrors can only get you so far.
What motto do you live by?
Be yourself, believe in yourself, and be true to yourself.
Any advice to aspiring authors out there?
Write every single day even if you do not feel inspired. Be humble and work hard. Read a lot and read a lot of different kinds of things. Reach outside of your comfort zone. Make yourself visible on more than one social media platform. Facebook is ok but Twitter has a much wider reach. These days, writing is not just locking yourself up in a garret and sending your ink and tear stained manuscript to one loyal patron. This is a multimedia age. You are in control of your own image, so craft it. Interact with your readers. Humility, hard work, and focus will get you a long way. Talent is useless without focus and dedication.
Nadia Gerassimenko is a Media Relations Manager for Yeti Culture, Freelancer in editorial services, and Assistant Editor at Luna Luna Magazine by day, a moonchild and poet by night. Nadia self-published her first poetry collection Moonchild Dreams (2015) and hopes to republish it traditionally. She's currently working on her second chapbook a chair, a monologue. Visit her at tepidautumn.net or tweet her at @tepidautumn.