Author Interview, Gothic Fiction, Podcast

Author Interview ~ Maria DeBlassie on Brujeria, Ordinary Gothic, Moving Beyond Generational Trauma, and Short Story HUNGRY BUSINESS

Interview Transcript ~ Introducing the Author

Maria DeBlassie

Maria DeBlassie, Ph.D. is a native New Mexican mestiza blogger, multi-award-winning writer, and multi-award-winning educator living in the Land of Enchantment. Her blogging life started as a year-long journey to write her back into happy, healthy, and whole through daily posts about life’s simple pleasures, everyday magic, and radical self-care.

That experiment turned into a bruja lifestyle, her first book, a press, and her ongoing blog, Enchantment Learning & Living—with more literary adventures to come. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading stories about things that go bump in the night, radical HEAs, and everyday conjuring.

When she isn’t teaching, reading, and writing, she’s practicing her kitchen witchery, concocting spells (um, recipes), whipping up potions (um, cocktails), and magical beauty products. That’s when she’s not in her garden communing with her plants and herbs or listening to the trees gossip and the stars whisper their wisdom. She can also be found drinking copious amounts of tea, collecting crystals, and consulting the tarot with her familiar, Smoke, a very sensible black cat who knows his way around the world—both the seen and the unseen dimensions of it.

She is forever looking for magic in her life and somehow always finding more than she thought was there. 

podcast


Listen to the interview on my podcast

Hungry Business

Looking for love can be deadly…

You know how it goes.  You go out, hoping to meet someone.  You wade through your fair share of brainless automatons, lifeless bodies, and ravenous undead good at passing as human.  

The more you go out, the less hope you feel and the colder your body gets.  But you keep at it.  All you need is one beating heart to match your own before yours stops pumping altogether.  How hard can it be to find one living, breathing human in a city full of bodies?  

Dating. 

It’s hungry business.

Author Interview Transcript: Introduction

CMR: Hello, and welcome to the next episode of Eldritch Girl, and today I’ve got Dr Maria DeBlassie with me for the author interview. Hello, would you like to introduce yourself?

MDeB: Hi! Thank you so much for having me. Yes, so I am a professor by day I teach at my local community college and Albuquerque, New Mexico and then part time at the University of New Mexico honors college. At the Community college I teach everything from college writing to creative writing and digital storytelling, and at the university I teach courses like courses on witchcraft and pop culture and romance novels and all sorts of fun things in between all that. When I’m not teaching, I am a writer. I write about the magic of everyday life, and all the things we can do to create and conjure that magic. And then I’m a fiction writer as well, so I write Gothic and Gothic romances.

I should also say, actually, that I am a bruja, a practicing bruja in New Mexico, which means that I’m always looking at ways to use writing as, like, a form of spell casting, as a form of working through things telling different stories about people of color, particularly the mestizas like myself, women who have latinx, indigenous and European ancestry, so looking at storytelling in writing as a form of thinking about the stories we want to tell about ourselves and the matter own life stories, that we can shape and craft for healing and hope and joy.

CMR: I love that. I thought I think that’s a really interesting way of looking at storytelling as magic and words as having a power, and I think, regardless of your – you as in the listener’s – perspective, I think that that is such a universal kind of truth, if you like, that fiction and storytelling is such a powerful thing for humans. I’m sure it’s Terry Pratchett who said instead of homo sapiens, [the wise man, or the thinking man] a better thing would be ‘the storytelling man’.


“The anthropologists got it wrong when they named our species Homo sapiens (‘wise man‘). In any case it’s an arrogant and bigheaded thing to say, wisdom being one of our least evident features. In reality, we are Pan narrans, the storytelling chimpanzee.”

~ Terry Pratchett, The Globe

MDeB: Yes, yeah. I’m a huge proponent of book magic and story magic. I think, you know, reading and writing is one of the ways we discover ourselves and heal ourselves and explore the possibilities of who we can be as human beings.

I am constantly reminded that we human beings are basically storytellers. More homo narrans than Homo sapiens. We see ourselves in others’ stories. Every genuine work of art contains a small fragment of glass from a mirror.

~ Henning Mankell, Arenas Movedizas

CMR: yeah yeah for sure. I’m really excited to hear the extract because I really love the short story, which is Hungry Business, and you’re going to read an extract now from that, and then we’re going to have a chat.

MDeB: So I’ll provide a little context to Hungry Business, and it’s basically a short story I came up with about how dating is the zombie apocalypse of the soul. And you know I always think my love of Gothic is that the Gothic is about, you know, you have to face the darkness, in order to see the light in your life. So this is kind of about that, when you are reaching a point in your life where you’re like, something’s gotta change because I can’t keep living how I’m living, so… [trails off, pause] The excerpt and reading is about the protagonist going on some bad dates and then thinking about where her life could go from there. 

And, as I was reviewing my excerpt, I realized there’s a part that might be confusing. When she gets home from her dates she always goes to the window seal to wait for a cat to appear across the street from another apartment window, so she’s waiting for that cat to come to that other window. So just a little context for the section I’m about to read.


Extract from Hungry Business (Kitchen Witch Press, 2020)

He said he’d love to have you for dinner—but you are careful.

A woman has to be careful. Never give them your address. Don’t drink too much. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Carry grave dirt to throw at them if they get too forward. Be ready to run to the nearest safe space if needed. The good news is that the Hungries, while persistent, are dumb as fuck (brain rot, you know) and slower than the sickness overtaking their bodies. Unless, of course, they are well fed, which is rarely the case.

This one looks a little better, you think optimistically.

You sit across from each other at the dinner table. The white tablecloth is as smooth and unblemished as his collared shirt. He has dressed for the occasion, taking care to hide the evidence of his affliction as best he can (though truly there is only so much he can do with a missing ear and half a brain). Still, the tuxedo and carefully applied makeup are enough to create the illusion of pumping blood beneath his pallid, blush-stained cheeks—in the right light. Which is another reason why you chose this place. Candlelight can hide a multitude of sins.

His manners are studied and smooth, as if he has spent a lot of time practicing more human-like movements and behavior. You admire a man who makes that kind of effort. He watches you as much as you do him, as if he is trying to remember what it was like to be alive. When you reach for your wine glass, so does he—only his thick decaying fingers almost crush the stem, whereas your nimble live ones carefully bring the dark red liquid to your mouth. You try not to notice how he stares at your lips—stained now from the wine—wondering, perhaps, how you taste.

As it turns out, he does get a taste of you. You’ve been surreptitiously picking at a hangnail on your pinky finger—that’s how scintillating the conversation is—when you looked down and realize it is your whole fingernail that has come off. You stare at it in horror, letting the truth of your situation sink in.

At least he has the decency to wait until you’ve left the table before grabbing your napkin and stuffing your bloodied nail in his mouth. A little color comes back into his face. He groans in ecstasy.

Nice to know you could still have that effect on a man. Still, it makes you feel cheap. Used. Like all he wanted you for was your body.

At home, you take a bath as hot as you can stand and read an old bodice ripper until the warmth returns to your veins, and the flames of hope have been fanned enough that you can crawl into your flannel jammies and be grateful you are still alive. The light in your apartment slowly seeps into your chest, and you settle into your perch on the window. You inspect the damage to your pinky finger as you wait for the cat to appear.

The bath stopped the spread of the decay but the tip is gray and blue. There is puss where your fingernail should have been. You smother it in aloe vera, grated ginger, and bandages, hoping it will be enough to bring life back into your appendage. You don’t really know how to treat something like this. You sigh and lean back against the window frame. Your orange tabby cat has made its appearance— yours, yes, thought you know you shouldn’t feel so possessive about a creature you only know from a distance. It’s just nice to know it’s there.

Here’s the thing you love about the cat across the way: It’s proof that there are other beating hearts out there. Cats won’t settle where Hungries live. Perhaps their feline instincts tell them they’re easy prey for the things that are never satiated. That’s why you never see alley cats in the humanless neighborhoods. In fact, it was their strange mass exodus from certain parts of the city that first alerted officials to the virus now plaguing them. And this cat—bright orange like a flame with a soft, full belly—seems happy enough in its home. You wonder what kind of human it belongs to.

~ Maria DeBlassie

Interview Transcript

CMR: I love it.  

MDeB: Thank you so much.

CMR: What inspired you to Gothicise the dating theme in the way that you do?

MDeB: Well, I am a hardcore introvert I should probably admit this upfront and I am not someone who’s ever, particularly enjoyed dating or thought it was fun in the way that, you know, media and romantic comedies and, you know, romance novels can sometimes portray it, so I started thinking more seriously about what would it was about dating casual dating that I didn’t like and, for me, I think the dark side of dating is that it can really commodify people and dehumanize them in a lot of ways, so the positive side of dating is that we’re doing it because we want to meet a like-minded person someone we connect with in a meaningful way and have some sort of intimate relationship, whatever form that takes but so much of dating becomes incredibly dehumanizing and a little bit soulless as you’re kind of going through the motions and thinking you know, maybe next time I’ll meet someone.

I also think there’s a tremendous amount of social pressure to kind of… perform your search for The One. And that’s part of what feels soulless, it’s like it stops feeling organic, so the protagonist in this story… she’s going through the motions of, you know, this is what you do in order to find someone, and it’s not really anything that makes her happy or makes her feel good about herself.

CMR: Yeah I think it’s really interesting – [the sites of horror that you have in the story]. I think what’s worth saying is, it should be a content warning, if anyone decides to read it, that there is a section that is coded as sexual threat.

MDeB: Yes, absolutely.

CMR: But obviously because it’s a zombie apocalypse it’s not what he is after as a character, but it is definitely it’s very analogous and it’s very obviously coded as that, and I thought that part was very well done, but for me the most difficult part to read as it was very relatable.

MDeB: Yeah so there’s a zombified version of the sexual threat in there and there yeah, so I do have a content warning on my story for that, and I think part of what makes dating so Gothic is, even in the section I read, you know, she – the protagonist – runs through a list of all the things she has to do to stay safe while dating and I think it’s interesting that if you aren’t like a het-cis [heterosexual, cisgender] male, so much of dating norms are about how to keep yourself safe, versus how to have fun or how to find someone that you like. It’s more like, here’s what you need to do to keep yourself safe, and that is language that hasn’t really changed in, I think hundreds of years, you know, from like 18th century courtship novels to now, it’s all about how to stay safe and avoid predators.

CMR: yeah absolutely it was such a relatable well kind of thought out reflection of the dating world and I thought that was just such a really interesting take on it and what I really like are things that Gothicise the mundane, and that kind of everyday activity that’s looked at through a different lens, and I think it’s done really effectively. 

And I wondered what were some of your influences are for Gothicising the everyday, and how do you effectively create a sense of the uncanny within that social context?

MDeB: So um. My degree area is actually in like 18th and 19th century courtship novels. And I grew up really loving Gothic romances so there’s like a big space in my heart for them, and what I love about both courtship novels and Gothic romances is this idea that, you know, they’re taking really basic things in a person’s life and showing the real dangers, so in Gothic romances you know we tend to focus on the more outlandish parts of those stories; the madwoman in the attic or the unexplained mysteries, but the real terror of those stories are actually really mundane and domestic.

You know they’re women worried about marrying the wrong man or making the wrong decision or thinking about how one little mistake or whatever might shape the rest of their lives, and of course we’re talking about you know very traditional marriage markets in the 18th and 19th centuries, but um. But those stories have evolved to really think about our internal and domestic lives and the quiet terrors we negotiate throughout our day-to-day, so that’s always sort of stuck with me, so I write a lot about both the magic of everyday life, the kind of beautiful subtleties that we often overlook that are really quite magical, but there’s the twin side of that, which is the everyday Gothic or the ordinary Gothic. Where sometimes we go through things that we don’t perceive as traumas or terrors because mainstream society has told us not to feel those things.

So there’s a lot of social conditioning there about what we’re allowed to like in everyday life, and what we’re allowed to feel. And the mundane Gothic comes out to say, hey, that thing you perceived as trauma that people are telling you as no big deal is in fact a trauma, and it’s okay to acknowledge it as such.

CMR: yeah I think that’s really important, I wonder if that is behind the modern Gothic resurgence. There seems to be a big upsurge in the Gothic in Adult and Young Adult literature, in terms of Gothic themes, Gothic atmosphere, you know, all of that coming out, and I think there’s just so much anxiety in society, and so much push-back against what people have been conditioned to think is okay, and then everyone is kind of waking up to the fact that actually, things are not okay for a lot of people, and things are not okay, and actually they’re not okay for a lot more people than you think.

MDeB: And, and also this idea that the real terror of that is someone wanting to think everything is fine, you know the suppression of those feelings that’s… that’s the terror and the horror, whereas the Gothic kind of brings out hey, we need to talk about this stuff, we… we can’t just pretend they don’t exist, right.

CMR: Yeah.

MDeB: And that’s why I love the Gothic, because it just kind of lets all the darkness out so that we can face it, that’s part of the catharsis.

CMR: Yeah and I think it’s the way it does it as well, it’s not kind of it, I mean, I think you can go one of two ways, either Gothic or Dystopia.

MDeB: Yeah.

CMR: You know, so you can project stuff forward into the future or the near future so it’s just far enough away that you can analyze current… contemporary issues, or you can do the Gothic thing with it, however that that works for you, could send it back in time, or Gothicise it in other ways, but one of the really fun things I think about the Gothic is, like you said, it’s so much about what’s hidden. It’s not just a genre, it’s a process of exposing that which is hidden, but there’s always that kind of underlying assumption going in for for reader that you know something is hidden and it will be uncovered.

MDeB: Yes, definitely, and what I love about the Gothic genre especially is there’s a real strong sense of history, you know there’s always some sort of, you know, the very traditional Gothic like some ancient prophecy or whatever, or even just more recent history that needs to be uncovered. And so, for me, that’s always an exploration of ancestral and generational trauma, so of the things that get passed on if they aren’t exposed or brought into the light. Even something like the repressive social ideologies of dating norms. They keep getting perpetuated and that trauma gets perpetuated unless, unless you break the cycle of what society is demanding of you.

CMR: Yeah I think you’re right about the whole kind of the performative nature of the dating game and all of those expectations. It’s almost like a Panopticon kind of effect where like everyone who’s in your circle is doing stuff and thinking, you know, it’s the whole focus of the conversation, it’s the being dragged on double dates that you don’t particularly want to go on, but that’s how you are socializing with your friends now I guess. And it’s that kind of pressure to belong, and those sorts of things come out in Hungry Business, that sort of thing. I think what struck me most about it is the protagonist is, apart from the dates, completely alone. I think the only time you see her interact with a friend is going on a double date situation. And I thought that was a really interesting Gothic trope, it’s a really important Gothic trope, the ‘Isolated Protagonist’ can be key to a Gothic text, and it’s so interesting that you get that sense of isolation even when you’re performing a very social act or you’re performing a social life.

MDeB: Absolutely and i’m so i’m so excited that you picked up on that. It is like, you know, sometimes it’s like we we have all these friends or we’re out doing all these things, and even then we’re surrounded by all these people it’s intentionally, it can be intensely isolating and and soul-gutting. So I really wanted to contrast that with the scenes when she’s at home and in her apartment and it’s cozy and warm and she has all these twinkle lights. And that’s the moment where you in many ways, you know, mainstream culture might see her as at her most isolated.But really that’s where she’s at her most at peace, you know, she’s connected to herself and she has more of a sense of who she is there, so that tension starts to build in the story, where she has to say, “Society is telling me I need to do this, but I’m at a point where I have to think about what makes me feel good because I can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again, because it’s making me crazy and literally infecting me with this thing I don’t know how to cure”.

CMR: Yeah, and I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil the end, but… yeah there’s loads of stuff I really want to get into about that, but I can’t because spoilers.

MDeB: Well, but what I can say about the ending without giving any spoilers is that the romance lover in me is huge on HEA or happily ever after, so there is a sense of catharsis and resolution and so she does find that the trick of course for her is figuring out how to get there, so for me the Gothic is always about yeah expose the darkness or really confront it, and then find your resolution from there.

CMR: I think that’s a really lovely way of approaching it as well, because I think so much of Gothic fiction is so bleak. You can have this very nihilistic approach where you’re holding a mirror up to something and you’re saying everything is wrong in the situation and things are very uncanny and unfamiliar but also very familiar and it’s very unsettling, and then you’re left with an ending that is really either very ambiguous, or very uncomfortable, or deliberately meant to unsettle you so you don’t know what’s going to happen, or it’s not going to get any better unless you burn it all down kind of ending. Then, an example of that… I guess spoilers, but it’s been published for several years now, is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, where, even that it does film does turn into a happy ever after ending, and romanticises it, but the book has a very different spin and it’s really not the happy ever after ending where everything is fine.

MDeB: Yes.

CMR: Yeah, and that’s what you’re left with, you know, you’re left with that note of – I guess, emotional evisceration, and there’s nothing for the reader to heal themselves with after that, so you then as the reader have to go forward into your daily life and do that work.

MDeB: Yes, exactly.

CMR: It’s not always the best place to be. It’s not the most comfortable place to be. And I really like that [the hopeful Gothic of Maria DeBlassie’s work] for the Gothic as a contrast or counterpoint.

MDeB: Yeah thank you, so one of my reasonings behind that is, again, because I come from a mixed cultural background, that is, you know, has a very intense history of of colonization in the American south west and religious oppression and all this stuff. I realised very early on, like in college that a lot of the stories about Latinx Hispanic indigenous communities were about trauma, and making people aware of those histories of trauma and the violence and all of that, and that’s really important to have all those things exposed, but at a certain point, I felt like okay, where do we go from here?

Like, we know all this is here, what’s our next step forward, and what I think is really exciting now is that people within those communities like myself are starting to think about changing those narratives, okay, so we have to expose everything, but we can’t just be in that perpetual state of of wrongness and grappling with the devastation of those things as you so as you so eloquently put it, we have to think about where do we go from here, otherwise you’re in that constant state of trauma.

So part of the the hopeful Gothic for me is like thinking, Ok, there is hope once you go through that devastating feeling and that, that rawness. You can start to begin to pave a new way forward, which is terrifying. That’s part of the Gothic, right, going into the unknown, but there’s also catharsis there.

CMR: I love that I think it’s an interesting… it’s a really good mode to bridge that gap from perpetual trauma to future planning, or a forward path, and the Gothic is a good way of going yes, everything is shit, and here are all the hidden things, but also this is how we can move forward this is how we can kind of do it – not necessarily “overcome” in inverted commas, that like how we can see where we’re going and see a forward…

MDeB: The power of knowing that that stuff is there, right. So, at the beginning of every Gothic tale, the danger is in not knowing that there’s stuff … that there is something there, but we don’t know what it is, and so, once it’s revealed, the catharsis is in recognizing… okay, that stuff’s there, it is probably always going to be there, but I have the agency now, and with my knowledge I can decide what I do, moving forward.

CMR: Yeah that sense of agency, I think that agency is really key, especially with like Gothic heroines where they spend most of the book trying to find their agency or regain that agency, or it’s that agency that becomes a battleground, like who has control of their destiny, and ultimately, it has to be, if you want that kind of resolution. Ultimately their agency has to be given back to them or attained in some way, and there has to be some kind of positive about that, yeah.

MDeB: Definitely, and I love that, yeah.

CMR: I think that works so well, and especially in terms of the dating scene.

MDeB: One thing I will say to you is i’m getting a lot of really wonderful reviews from that story of people just saying I’m so glad I’m not in the dating scene anymore, or how painfully relatable it was, and so to me that was really cathartic because, again I think it’s something that’s a little more unspoken where people just really being honest about how much it can suck out there.

CMR: Yeah and it’s so demoralizing, yes and the process of doing it over and over does kind of strip you of your agency in that kind of way because there’s also that narrative that you can’t be happy unless you’ve got someone else.

MDeB: Exactly

CMR: Or in a more general way, you know you can’t be happy unless you conform to this set of societal expectations, and finding your own space [in that society is hard].

Would you say that the themes of the business and our representative of your work as a whole, or do you like to explore the range of modes and things?

MDeB: That’s a great question. So for the most part, it is reflective of my work as a whole, I really love the Gothic and that kind of hopeful Gothic, where there’s a sense of cozy Gothic, too, as disturbing as some of the bits of Hungry Business are, there’s also some really comforting portions of the story, too, so I really like to inhabit that space. I also write in in my nonfiction – in my poetry and prose nonfiction – I write about the magic of everyday life so that looks at the same sort of issues, but from a more positive perspective, so it doesn’t quite go as dark, but it really explores the the joys of of mundane life like you know, a really good cup of tea is really a magic potion. You know, the cast iron pot is your cauldron where you can brew all sorts of amazing things. So I kind of move in between the everyday magic and the ordinary Gothic in what I write.

CMR: Yeah, that’s lovely. Have you got anything coming out that you want to publicise or let us know about, or anything coming up?

MDeB: Yes, well, thanks for asking, so in the Fall, I have my second nonfiction book in October (2021), it’s a practical guide to magical living, so again really mundane tips on how to just conjure more magic and kind of be conscious about how you are the author of your own story. Then hopefully in the Spring [of 2021] I’m hoping to get out my next short story or novella called Weep Woman Weep. It’s based on the legend of La Llorona or the weeping woman, which is a really famous creepy story in New Mexico about a woman who drowns her babies in the river, the Rio Grande, after all this stuff happens, so she’s a common archetype she’s kind of the woman in white archetype that you see in a lot of cultures, but I have a story that’s about that, and how you heal from issues of ancestral trauma so fingers crossed it’ll be out this Spring (2021) and so I’m looking forward to that.

[Update from the author: Weep Woman Weep will be out 15 June 2021]

CMR: Oh wow. I’m really looking forward to that, I’m really excited. Thank you so much for coming on the show, it’s been a really lovely chat.

MDeB: Thank you for having me, and I am actually a very big fan of your work and your writing, and it is so delightful and it’s… I’ll be honest like it’s taking me a little longer to go through, because I don’t want it to end, and so I’m like parceling it out each night before bed, because I just find that world and that space very comforting. Though it’s creepy, it’s very comforting.

CMR: Thank you!! Yeah that’s what I’m going for and then, as it goes on, I didn’t realize like how much how much creepier it gets, and then I’m like, it’s fine.

MDeB: There’s like some characters, you know, I’m like… you’re a cannibal, why do I like you so much?! I would love to hang out with you sometime!

CMR: Yeah, I think it’s the whole sort of, if it wasn’t for his family having messed him up so much, he would actually be a really sweet guy.

MDeB: Absolutely, and I love the characters in the story, all of them have this this interesting backstory of like this stuff happened to me, now, where do I go from here, like what kind of life do I want to build for myself, and so to me that’s been such a fascinating space to linger and with these interesting characters who are just like this is what I have going on now, and where do I go from here.

CMR: It’s kind of similar to some of your work!

MDeB: They’re good people at the core, you know, so yeah, thank you so much, it’s been really a lot of medicine for me.

CMR: That’s really lovely to hear, thank you very much, I’m honored. Well, that’s all we’ve got time for, thank you for listening, thank you once again for coming on the podcast!



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