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Interview w/ Leza Cantoral

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One of the wonderful things about writing dark fiction and horror is the many subgenres one can find themselves. So many avenues to explore. Pockets of strange ungodly things. Cosmic horrors and mutant creatures. Fantastic beasts of myth come alive. Haunted furniture and murderous toys. Not forgetting, of course, the most horrifying of all horror tropes and subgenres, the capacity of human indignity. Evil men and women bound to do insidious works. Where do writers come up with their ideas? Where do stories come from? These are two separate questions. Fundamentally, stories come from the same place they always have, that deepest part of ourselves that, though afraid, dares to look out into the unseen where shadows dance and blue razor teeth smile gleefully back at us. And though the core of every writer is the same, inspiration can come from an assortment of places and experiences. Today, we’ll be talking with Leza Cantoral, an up and coming writer that specializes in (but not limited to) the subgenre bizarro fiction. So, pull up a chair. Keep your tentacles to yourself. Take a seat. And give your attention to our guest.

Machine Mean: Let’s get some basic introductions out of the way, shall we? Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What got you into writing? What type of genre or sub-genre do you write in?

Leza Cantoral: I grew up in Mexico and my family moved to the Chicago suburbs when I was 12. I felt very alienated and began writing poetry to cope with depression. I think I got The Diary of Anne Frank for my birthday that year. I thought about her and what a lovely person and writer she was and what a shame it was that I could not read anything by her but her diary. I think that inspired me to chronicle my life through daily journaling. I also wrote a lot of poetry and a few screenplays.

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I did not really think of story writing as an actual point of focus until college when I met Garrett Cook. He was the strangest person I had ever met. We became friends when we took a Postmodernism class together. He slipped a story he wrote under my dorm door called ‘The Ashen Bride’ about a Cinderella with a Vagina Dentate and the story blew my mind. I worried that he was some kinda sexual deviant, but mostly, I was impressed with his style. Reading his stories made me want to write my own surreal and grotesquely twisted fairy tales.

At the time, I was mostly getting stoned and writing endless streams of consciousness, inspired by people like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. I think the Beat and the Bizarro kinda came together for me eventually. You can see it in stories like “Dope,” which is part angry drunken rant, part dream, and part really uncomfortable description of someone getting probed by aliens. Someone told me it reminded them of Harlan Ellison.

MM: What’s your favorite book and why?

LC: Alice in Wonderland, because it really captures the female psyche. I see myself reflected in it every time.

MM: What is your favorite Lovecraft short story? Why?

LC: “The Music of Erich Zann” because it makes me sad and excited and has a fabulous eerie atmosphere. Also, I find the metaphor apt for the artist. You do often go mad creating and it is hard to know where to draw the line between art and madness. It is a possession.

MM: This is a hard one…but, what is your favorite horror movie? And why?

LC: That is really hard. I’m gonna go with Phenomena, by Dario Argento, starring Jennifer Connelly. This movie is pretty low key on the horror, for an Argento film, though there are some incredible, sensual kills, as well as some grotesque imagery at the end that will never wash out of your mind once you see it. I love it because of the atmosphere and the cool psychic insect powers and the chimp. It is a very sweet movie and it is also wonderfully haunting.

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MM: Leza, I have to admit, you are certainly one of the more interesting persons I’ve ever met through social media. You are very vocal and passionate about your art, which is very awesome and refreshing to see in up and coming authors. What kind of inspiration do you draw from? Do you have a mentor of sorts?

LC: I draw inspiration from many places. Mostly poetry and pop music. I love both Sylvia Plath and Lana Del Rey. I love them so much I am editing an anthology of stories inspired by them for CLASH Books.

I grew up in Mexico and learned French in high school. I think this affected how I write. Spanish and French have a certain rhythm, texture, and cadence. There is a softness, a rawness, and a voluptuousness to the Latin languages. The French Surrealist poets had a huge impact on me in college. I have been trying to write like them ever since.

I have had a few mentors. My first was Garrett Cook. I met him in college and I fell in love with his short stories. I learned by shadowing him and watching his process. I adopted some of his techniques such as handwriting first drafts. There is a magic to having the pen to paper. A computer will never have that raw immediacy for me.

I recently took a class by Juliet Escoria on LitReactor called “Taboo Topics.” It was an incredible experience and she was the perfect mentor. She gave us assignments that pushed our comfort zone boundaries and then gave incredible feedback to keep our writing simple and honest. Two of the pieces I wrote in her class made it into the collection.

My main mentor is Christoph Paul. He has been working with me for the past two years. He gives me honest feedback and is a master of story structure. The main thing that I have gotten from working with Christoph is his work ethic. He is one of those people that feels really guilty if he is not working on at least five things at the same time. I work harder because he raises the bar for what is normal. He is great at balancing praise with criticism. He never kisses my ass.

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MM: From the sounds of things, you seem to be keeping busy, with book signings and various traveling and publishing articles with Luna Luna Magazine, I think my head would spin taking on so many projects! Do you have a writing method that helps you keep everything grounded? A schedule of sorts? Do you have a special place you like to do your writing?

LC: I have an office and that helps keep things organized, though I tend to do most of my writing in bed while listening to pop music or watching movies and TV.

My schedule is: post stuff on the CLASH Media website in the morning, do other business and publishing-related things, promote, edit, etc. Then after dinner, I focus on writing.

When I work on short stories it kinda derails my schedule, though. I will get totally obsessed and manic and go a little insane for like a week or so, watching or listening to music and movies on repeat that is putting me in the zone. My technique for short story writing is pretty much a self-induced trance. Once I am done it takes me a day or two to come back to reality and I usually feel dead inside until I do.

MM: According to the all-knowing and all-powerful Amazon, your last publication was Baum Ass Stories: Twistered Tales of Oz, which was a collection of short stories and poems based in a sort of twisted version of Oz. Can you tell us a little bit about this book and what compelled you to dabble in this particular sub-genre? Is it a sub-genre you fell into or came by naturally?

LC: I was asked by Zeb Carter to write a story for it. I grew up reading and loving the Oz books. I had a dystopian Nazi Disney world that had been brewing for a while in my head and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to start exploring it. My main character is a cross between Eva Braun and Princess Langwidere. She is really fucked up and insane. This story mostly arose out of my fascination with Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler’s relationship. It just seems very twisted and sadomasochistic. She was very much in love with him and it seems like he kinda took her for granted. In my own twisted way, I kinda gave Eva the ending I felt she deserved.

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MM: Okay…let’s talk about your new book that just released, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest. The cover looks stunning, BTW. Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of stories readers can expect from this collection? What genre or sub-genre would you label it as?

LC: The stories in this collection span many genres. Bizarro, surrealism, splatterpunk, speculative, strange fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, literary horror, body horror, experimental metafiction, slipstream, stream of consciousness. Some of the stories read like surreal prose poems, some are straight up horror stories, and some are twisted fairy tales, like Planet Mermaid (The Little Mermaid), Beast (Beauty and the Beast), Eva of Oz (Ozma of Oz).

I would say that the stories in this collection are all pretty dark. My characters all want things: validation, satisfaction, release, escape, love. The general tone is tragic. I use colorful language to deal with sad themes. The happy endings are bittersweet if they happen at all.

MM: In the description, it sounds like readers are in store for a unique experience. One reviewer said that Cartoons in the Suicide Forest is “mesmerizing, sexual and grotesque, often at the same time.”  They also gave the book a five-star rating. Did this reviewer hit the nail on the head more or less for what you were going for?

LC: I love directors like Dario Argento, Alejandro Jodorowski, and David Lynch. I try to create an eerie and dissociative experience for the reader; something that will take them outside of themselves.

When I write stories that are of a sexual nature it is because sex sometimes is the only way to describe a certain psychic state. I often explore the feeling of being violated against one’s will, or of being outside one’s body as other people are using it. This is metaphorical of loss of self. Holding on to my sense of self is actually something I struggle with. It might surprise people, or not. Writing is the only way that I can honestly express myself. Selfies are lies. You see my face but you don’t know what I am really thinking or feeling. If you want to know my heart, read my stories.

MM: The book cover looks freaking sweet. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Who designed it? Did you get any say in the creative process?

LC: The cover is by Matthew Revert, who is a genius. I gave him the titular story to draw inspiration from and I cried when I saw what he came up with. That cover truly captures the soul of this collection.

MM: Before we go, can you drop a little hint on future projects you may have cooking?

LC: My next project is a Fantasy adventure called “The Ice Cream Girl Gospels.” I have begun outlining the book and drawing a map of Ice Cream Land. The story will be sweet and strange. It is inspired by Candyland, drugs, and pop music videos. After that, I have a novel called “Tragedy Town.”  It’s a dark romantic comedy about the danger and beauty of falling in love. Think if Charlie Kaufman directed an episode of The Twilight Zone. I also have two poems appearing in the upcoming Civil Coping Mechanisms anthology A Shadow Map: An Anthology of Survivors of Sexual Assault and a slipstream story about Jackie Kennedy, called “Saint Jackie” that will be appearing in the Bizarro Pulp Press anthology More Bizarro Than Bizarro.

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You can get YOUR copy of Leza’s latest book Cartoons in the Suicide Forest for $3.99!!!

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lezacantoral

Leza Cantoral was born in Mexico and moved to the Chicago suburbs when she was 12. She runs CLASH Books and is the editor of Print Projects for Luna Luna Magazine. She lives in New Hampshire with the love of her life and their two cats. ‘Cartoons in the Suicide Forest’ is her first short story collection. She is currently working on a YA Bizarro novella called ‘The Ice Cream Girl Gospels’ You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter @lezacantoral

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