Monica S Kuebler is the managing editor for Rue Morgue Magazine, Editor-In-Chief of Burning Effigy Press and has at different times in her life practiced performance poetry, acting, dance, photography and music. It would probably be fair to call her an artist indebted to the dark side. More recently Monica began serialising her first Young Adult vampire novel online, releasing a free chapter every Sunday at www.bleederbook.com. Bleeder acts as an introduction to the universe of the author’s planned Young Adult trilogy The Cold Ones and more importantly marks Monica’s first openly available fiction.
After following her work for the best part of the last decade in Canada’s Rue Morgue Magazine I did a double-take at the thought that Monica S Kuebler had kept her fiction under wraps until now, so I made it my business to begin following Bleeder from the outset. Populated by believable characters dwelling in a world where there’s nothing romantic about the night, Bleeder has an edge lacking in so many contemporary stories aimed at young audiences, and Monica authentically captures a teenage voice in the distinct manner of somebody for whom rebellion and freedom-of-speech are second nature and not just the recollections of a long-passed youth.
Starburst Magazine got the chance to speak to Monica about why now seemed like the right time to write about vampires, where she stands on censorship and what it takes to frighten somebody that has spent their life immersed in horror.
Starburst: First, of all the different methods that you could have chosen to release Bleeder, what made you decide to release a chapter each week online for free?
Monica S Kuebler: It was quick way to force myself to get over my extreme stage fright about sharing my fiction, and it has worked wonders. When you’re committed to posting a chapter a week there’s not a whole lot of time to get scared or second-guess yourself. It was also a fun way to introduce people to this world I’m building, which I’ll hopefully get to keeping adding to with subsequent young adult horror novels. Lastly, it’s not like any publisher/agent is looking for vampire stories now that the whole Twilight boom is over, so I had this outline I was sitting on, but couldn’t do much with, so I thought why the heck not try this? Admittedly, I can be very impulsive at times.
What is it particularly about the Young Adult market that made you decide to focus your attention there?
Truth be told, it had absolutely nothing to do with the market at all. While it’s fantastic that YA is continuing to boom, I’d be writing for teens even if it wasn’t. I spent a lot of time in my late twenties trying to pen novels for adult readers without a lot of success. I couldn’t even finish any of them. And when I started really asking myself why, I had a revelation: I didn’t want to be writing horror for grown-ups. Why else was I continually casting 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds as my protagonists? Once I figured that out, everything made a lot more sense, and I’ve honestly never looked back. Now I can’t imagine writing anything but teen fiction. It feels right. It feels like home. I love the fast-paced simplicity of YA storytelling and I think there’s a lot of room in the field right now for some genuinely scary monsters.
I think it would be fair to say that you have the horror credentials to work in the vampire genre - can you tell me a little about your background?
I’m not sure I entirely agree. I’m just a horror journalist/fan girl trying on the fiction-writing hat, and I’ve made more than my fair share of newbie mistakes to prove it. But that’s not what you asked. I’ve been reading horror since my mother first introduced me to a book of Eastern ghost stories when I was about six years old. It was full of wonderfully eerie watercolour renditions of the spectres and ghouls that populated the tales. I quickly became obsessed with that book. Unfortunately I went to a small rural grade school that didn’t have a whole lot of truly scary stories on offer in its library. So I gravitated towards Ray Bradbury, Monica Hughes, John Wyndham and other science fiction authors for a while as a result, at least until I discovered the works of Stephen King, Clive Barker and Dean Koontz at the public library around sixth grade, then I found myself hooked on horror all over again. My father isn’t a reader, and he thankfully never paid much attention to what books I was signing out, so I was able to feed my genre love from a young age entirely unchecked.
I started reading teen horror books by Christopher Pike aged 10 and his writing was my initiation into an older world, but all other YA horror writers at the time seemed tame and safe in comparison. Have you made any conscious efforts to ensure that Bleeder will have an impact on your desired audience?
Bleeder is not tame, while it definitely has some of the trappings of urban fantasy there is no denying that it is a horror story, and one that is most definitely intended to scare and disturb. Part of my reason for wanting to write YA is to tell the types of tales I wished existed when I was young, and I think it would be a betrayal to both myself and my intended audience if I were to water them down.
In an ideal world, what happens when Bleeder is complete? What's your next step?
I’d love to see it published in a proper print edition, though it would definitely require some tinkering, as the mechanics of writing a serial are considerably different from those of writing a regular novel. In a serial, you are constantly adding little reminders to the audience about what happened in previous weeks, in previous instalments, while in a book that’s meant to be read in five or six sittings that level of recapping is not necessary and would likely detract from the narrative flow. I’ve already received several emails asking if it’ll be available in hardcopy someday, so it does seem destined to go that route, but of course the question remains as to whether I’ll release it independently or whether some publisher will snap it up.
It's almost insulting to ask, but the lessons in monogamy and submission that were expounded by the "heroine" of that other recent vampire phenomenon seemed a great backwards step for the rights of women everywhere. Have you tried to make Mildred into a more positive figure for readers to identify with, or does that kind of thinking not factor into the way that you write?
I never intentionally set about writing Mills as some sort of positive role model for teen girls. I’m simply a storyteller with what I think is an interesting tale to tell. Bleeder definitely has some broad and hopefully thought-provoking themes, but I’m not one for heavy-handed moralizing, nor do I think teen readers really want/need that. In the end, what each person takes from the serial will be unique to them and their own life experiences. If anything, I wanted to create a believable portrait of a teenager. Mills has a lot of good, redeeming qualities, but she also suffers from an increasingly short-fuse temper and an innate ability to get herself into problematic situations. I don’t expect readers to learn from her so much as hopefully identify with her on some level. She’s impetuous and daring, just as often as she is frustrated and completely confused about her emotions, feelings and reactions to things. And she sometimes even makes bad decisions despite knowing they are bad decisions, just like the rest of us.
Writing horror for young adults, where do you stand on censorship? Are there any issues that you wouldn't tackle or actions that you wouldn't depict?
The only two things I avoid in YA are the obvious ones: gratuitously descriptive sex and unnecessary cursing. My characters do cuss, but only when it would seem wrong for them do anything else, if that makes sense. But there are no social issues that I consciously avoid. I have absolutely no desire to talk down to teenagers, whose lives can be just as messy and complicated as those of adults, if not more so, especially once you throw hormones, family drama and trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be into the mix.
You've spent so much of your life immersed in horror; does anything still hold the power to frighten you?
Haunted house stories, for sure, but really anything with buckets of atmosphere and subtle, half-seen creep-outs. For me, when it comes to movies anyway, less really is more. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the hell out of gory splatter flicks, but I don’t exactly watch them to be freaked out.
We’d like to take this opportunity to wish Monica ever success with Bleeder and here’s hoping that it finds the audience it so deserves.