A conversation that took place over Facebook Messenger while a little boy was attacking a laptop. We preserved the conversation as it appeared. Mostly because it seemed very pretentious, and mostly because it looked cool whenever Leza hit the enter key. No editing was involved. It is a pure discussion.
Is there a thematic concept from your own life that helped inform how you designed your collection?
As far as thematic concept, there isn’t one singular one. There are certain themes that reappear throughout my stuff. One is Little Red Riding Hood. I do not have a LRRH story in this collection, but the theme of a bold female venturing into something dangerous is a recurring theme. I see this confrontation with the savage nature of life to be a rite of passage in becoming a woman.
Your work, then, is sort of an extended metaphor? Do you think there is a need for work like this one? In other words, do you think there are other authors who might have a similar worldview?
I think some do. Angela Carter, for instance. Her fairy tales are about the savagery inherent in life.
We have talked about Russian literature in the past; I think discussions regarding your work increased when we began to talk about a social media post that was focused on Anna Karenina. I think you had mentioned a connection to themes in Russian literature to ideas you were considering for Cartoons in the Suicide Forest…
I don’t remember that post. You’ll have to refresh me. Reading Anna Karenina has changed how I look at story. I used to be more into getting off with a bang. With Tolstoy, I learned to appreciate the mechanics of storytelling. There is one story in the collection that I intended to have a Russian literary vibe and that is Siberian Honeymoon, which was almost the name of the collection. I am drawn to tragic themes.
I don’t remember our conversation much, other than the fact that discussing the Russians led us to deeper reflections on your own work. Our literary discussion began over social media; you often appear on social media to discuss the artists who have influenced you, and continue to influence you. Sylvia Plath seems to be the one poet who is consistent with your aesthetic. I think the complexity of an idea that asks writers to explore Plath’s poetry while thinking critically about Lana Del Rey’s music. The prompt is great!
Yes, Sylvia Plath and Lana Del Rey. Poet and pop star. I often get inspired from poems as well as songs and music videos. Lana will do videos like mini movies. I came up with the idea to do an anthology of stories inspired by these two muses who embody a spectrum of alluring and dark femininity. The lyricism of both of them inspires me.
I basically came up with that antho cause I was stumped on a story inspired by her bee poems in Ariel.
What if you could read one of your stories to her?
To Plath specifically.
Which story would I read?
We think of dead poets as literary messiahs sometimes
I think I’d want her to read all of them. Hahaha But mainly the titular story, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest, and actually, the new one I just write for the More Bizarro than Bizarro antho
There is something about Sylvia that freaks me out, because her Ariel voice is so clear and distinct.
It’s like a posession
Like she’s already dead
It fascinates me
She tells the truth because she has nothing to lose
The secret is to stay alive
And that’s the takeaway for me
You can die and not die
I’ve gotten good at killing myself without actually doing it
I don’t with words not knives or pills
Would you say Plath could make people uncomfortable?
I think she gets off on that possibility
Reminds me so much of Mulholland Drive
Plath amused herself by fucking with people’s heads
At one point in college I almost wrote a paper about Plath and Marilyn Monroe
Like how they’re the two halves of the typical 50s woman
Of her struggles
It was a weird time to have a vagina
I don’t envy them
“It was a weird time to have a vagina.”
Lol. That should have been the name of the essay
My cultural history teacher was so confused
I wrote her a paper about how Sylvia plaths voice in Ariel sounds like a revenant.
To be fair, she was a cultural history teacher, not a literature teacher
Well, I wonder if Plath had a direct influence on any specific music genres? I like to make a connection between her and Nirvana. I must have read that somewhere.
I read somewhere that particular Smith yelled out Plath poems when she was practicing singing
And I definitely see her influence on Courtney Love, Shirley Manson, Alanis, Tori Amos, Madonna.
The trailer you made features some acoustic music; the trailer for Cartoons in the Suicide Forest. You had a trailer made for it, and there’s some acoustic guitar twangin’ in the background…
I don’t think we’d have songs like you oughta know and only happy when it rains if we did not have the angsty and four poetesses of the past to start clearing the path. I think of women like Mary Shelley, for instance, who was 17 when she changed literature forever.
The guitar and voice and song is Christoph Paul.
So, christoph Paul is my boyfriend. Well, now fiance. He’s very talented. He wrote that song for me. It’s really just a chorus. But it’s beautiful. I sing on ‘forest’ and ‘adore us’
You can barely hear me. But I’m there.
Christoph also write the lines that the ghosty girls chant. We ended up putting that as a back cover description cause I cannot describe these stories. There’s too many genres. Too much exploration.
Cartoons in the Suicide Forest When we’re dead You know she’ll adore us
It captures the forest
I wanted to shoot the scene in cartoons in the Suicide forest
I wanted to show myself cutting my own throat and blue paint spilling out.
That scene is a chakra meditation. It is a pain meditation. While I wrote that scene I let go of a lot of pain.
It was cathartic.
Death is not the end.
I shot the video in Tompkins square park in NYC.
The park has emotional significance
It’s the park that was down the block from christoph’s NY apartment.
I met him in the Bizarro Family FB group cause he had gone to BizarroCon for the first time. I was not able to go that year but we met anyway thanks to the internet.
I came on the train and moved into his apartment.
He had a full on crazy girl on his hands.
Anyway, I spent many happy days walking through that park. If you watch the video carefully you can see the regular group of crust punks hanging out in the corner
Crust punks love that park.
Crust punks and winos and cute fucking dogs.
Some of the staff of Luna Luna Magazine came out to lend their witchy support to my little art project. We had a lot of fun.
We watched this trailer for the story, Girls in the Suicide Forest, and we found the idea to actually be semi-unnerving. You were walking around in broad daylight and made this video. What was it like to film the trailer?
It was mildly awkward. People were definitely looking at us and I had to ask some people to sit somewhere else. It was way less awkward than it would have been in a smaller or more conservative town, though. NYC is a city where people are always shooting stuff and doing weird public performances. There was a moment, when the Luna Luna ladies first started chanting, that was pretty weird. We all felt like crazy people. Haha. I made a joke to break the ice. I told them that if they had ever wished to feel super awkward in public, while wearing flowy dresses and chanting like witches, this was their dream come true. We joked about how people probably thought we were a coven of witches or a suicide cult. We all laughed and were able to focus after that. We did about 10 takes. Each time they loosened up a bit more. Each time I told them to chant louder and move their bodies more. They were all amazing. Joanna C Valente really threw herself into it. Her sister, Stephanie looked haunting. Trish Grisafi did her eye makeup very corpselike, which was perfect, Jessica Reidy is actually a belly dancer, so she was a natural, and Lisa Marie Basile, founder of Luna Luna Magazine, was dark and mysterious. I could not have asked for a better crew of spooky ghost girls. They all got into it and by the final take I got what I wanted.
Do you think there are any specific challenges to writing sexual stories, from a woman’s perspective? Is there a particularly good male author who seems to capture sensuality in a believable way?
Answer to question: there are many male authors who have sensual voices. I’d say Baudelaire and Marilyn Manson can really bring it. Poe too. I like that twisted gothic sensuality. When there is a perversity to it it becomes more exciting.
I don’t really know if there are any particular challenges. I never saw any. The thing with me was I was full of rage and sexual frustration. It came out. Star Power, my first story, was inspired by a tarot card. The sun. It made me think about the full manifestation of self, full potential manifest. Then I pictured what would be the opposite of that. A sex bot with thoughts and feelings but no voice and no way to say no.
It was my personal nightmare.
The sex scenes are sexual because they are sex scenes. But if you look deeper you will see the truth and the savagery underneath.
Sex is a battle, every time, no matter how much you actually like the other person. Sex and death. That’s all there is. Survival. And to quote the recent nobel prize in literature, Mr Bob Dylan “He not busy being born is busy dying.”
I told Leza I had no more questions. She is always a pleasure to talk to. Her interesting intellect has made for some interesting conversations; Leza is truly a gem.
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