Women in Horror Month Fiction Fragments: Zin E. Rocklyn

Wednesday, I spoke with Valjeanne Jeffers and she shared a fragment from the next book in her Mona Liveling series, Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective III: The Case of the Vanishing Child.

Today, Girl Meets Monster welcomes Zin E. Rocklyn.

Zin E. Rocklyn is a contributor to Bram Stoker-nominated and This is Horror Award-winning Nox PareidoliaKaijuRising II: Reign of MonstersBrigands: A Blackguards Anthology, and Forever Vacancy anthologies and Weird Luck TalesNo. 7 zine. Their story “Summer Skin” in the Bram Stoker-nominated anthology Sycorax’s Daughters received an honorable mention for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Volume Ten. Zin contributed the nonfiction essay “My Genre Makes a Monster ofMe” to Uncanny Magazine’s Hugo Award-winning Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. Their short story “The Night Sun” and flash fiction “teatime” were published on Tor.com. Their debut novella will be published by Tor.com in Fall 2021. Zin is a 2017 VONA and 2018 Viable Paradise graduate as well as a 2022 Clarion West candidate. You can find them on Twitter @intelligentwat

Ten Questions

GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster and thank you for being part of my first Women in Horror Month series, Zin. What projects are you currently working on? Is horror your primary genre, or do you write in other genres? If you write in other genres, which do you feel most comfortable writing, and why?

ZER: Thank you for having me! I write primarily horror but use it across genre. Combining horror with other aspects of Speculative Fiction is what makes it fun. The genre I like to write in most is the weird because of how much freedom there is in writing it.

GMM: When did you first know that you were a horror writer? How did you develop an interest in the genre? What initially attracted you to horror stories? Which writers influenced you then? Which writers influence you now?

ZER: I’ve been a horror writer from the very beginning. My brother, who is 8.5 years older than me, made it a point to scare me in any way he could so he started with A Nightmare on Elm Street. But it backfired! I fell in love with horror instead of being frightened. I saw a way to express what I felt like was a growing darkness within me and I almost immediately took to the page. I found the Fear Street series by RL Stine not long after at around the age of 7 and used that as a framework to learn how to write as well as how to scare folks. Clive Barker was my next great discovery. His prose and imagination appealed to everything I aimed for in my fiction. Books of Blood Vol I-III is still considered a Bible to me. Barker is still a huge influence, as well as NK Jemisin, Octavia Butler, and Toni Morrison.

GMM: The documentary, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019), explores Black horror and the portrayal (and absence) of Black people in horror movies. As a definition of what Black horror means begins to take shape, Tananarive Due says “Black history is Black horror.” What do you think she meant by that? Can you give an example of how this idea shows up in your own work?

ZER: This is essay material, but I’ll keep it short: despite the efforts of revisionist history, Black people have never been treated like humans in, at the very least, this country. Our survival against these odds is our history, our present, and unfortunately, our immediate future. Writing is my way of fighting for the truth. My stories always feature a Black woman lead, no matter how hard history tries to erase us and our contributions. I speak to my experiences in my stories as a way to flush them out as well as show the world that we are here, we matter, we are worthy.

GMM: As a WOC writing horror/dark speculative fiction, do you feel obligated to have a deeper message in your stories? Can writers of color write stories without broader messages about identity, class, and racism? Is it possible to divorce yourself from that ongoing narrative within our culture when you set out to write a story?

ZER: I do feel that pressure to have a deeper message in my work, but I’m learning to let that go and simply tell the stories within me. By default, my presence within horror and writing horror is a message unto itself. Me showing up is message enough, so there’s no definitive way for me to divorce myself from that ongoing narrative. Our presence is our protest, so I encourage folks of colour to just simply write anything they want!

GMM: What are your top five favorite horror movies, and why? Top five horror novels? Which book or movie scared you the most?

ZER: Aw, man, my favourite horror movies: 28 Days Later, Silence of the Lambs, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, Shelley, and Attack the Block. I like meditative horror as well as action and humour.

Favourite horror novels: Dark Property by Brian Evenson, Blood Child by Octavia Butler, NeverLand by Douglas Clegg, Wounds by Nathan Ballingrud, and kindred by Octavia Butler. These novels shaped the writer I am today and continue to influence me. The book that scared me the most was actually a collection of short stories mentioned before: Clive Barker’s Books of Blood Vol. I-III. These stories still haunt me, and I sleep with the lights on anytime I reread them.

GMM: How do you feel about white-identifying writers who write stories about non-white characters? What problems have you encountered? What potential issues do you see with white-identifying writers telling BIPOC stories? What advice would you give those writers?

ZER: While I definitely feel people should be able to write what they want; I also caution intent versus impact. Our experiences are unique to what is in popular media about us and to live the experience is completely different to being on the sidelines observing. My advice would be to hire authenticity readers and more than just one. Our experiences are not monolithic so make sure you gain more than one perspective and not just one that agrees with you.

GMM: All writers have experienced some form of impostor syndrome. What has your experience with impostor syndrome been like? Did you ever have a particularly bad case of it? If so, what caused it and how did you manage it?

ZER: I’m going through it now! LOL! I think most writers go through this phase multiple times in their careers; it’s part of the deal when you have a talent that’s so subjective to its audience.

GMM: About a year ago, I bought a T-shirt you designed that says: “Support Black Women Who Write Weird Shit.” First, and foremost, what do you consider “weird shit”? And, second, where can people order their own T-shirt?

ZER: Weird shit, to me, is the uncanny, the thing in the periphery that makes your heart skip for a second. It’s the unsettling feeling you have when something is just a tad off. Once I launch my website, I’ll have t-shirts for sale!

GMM: Zin E. Rocklyn is a pseudonym. I won’t reveal your real name unless you are comfortable doing so. Why use a pseudonym? What are the benefits? Drawbacks? What dark secrets are you hiding?

ZER: LMAO!! I have no issue with my real name being out there. I chose a moniker to pay my respects to the source of my imagination: family.

GMM: If you could give advice to your younger self about writing, what would it be? How would your journey be different, or would you keep things the same?

ZER: You are good. Keep writing. And, yes, you can write that.

“In Full Bloom” by Zin E. Rocklyn

12:15

He’s slight in every sense of the word. Fine-boned, like a delicate bird. Pale and sickly. Shoulders rounded, back slumped. A heavy breath from paper-thin lungs could break him.

I want to cradle him.

I want to wrap my large, dark hands around his tiny torso and squeeze. I want to read the notches of his spine with my heavy fingertips, pluck and play his pronounced ribs with my thumbs. My fat tongue fights to taste his powdery flesh. My ears yearn for the crinkle of his reedy skin.

I need him.

Just as he needs me. He’s my baby, my child, a man born of my desire and aching. He is my manifestation.

He looks to me. For care. For comfort. For protection.

And all I want to do is hurt him.

He knows that look. Understands it. Me. More than I know myself.

My steps are careful, but I am clumsy. Big feet, stubby toes, long limbs. I am everything he is not.

I am his God.

He is my Goddess.

And we hate each other for it.

Long fingers curl into a ball tight enough to crack air. The strike is solid, satisfying.

The sight of red pleases me. He whimpers. I giggle.

The tear is angry, but not alone. More crowd his blind eyes until they fall together, storming down the misshapen hills and valleys of his face. They gather at the peak of his chin, clinging to one another, impregnating each other until there is nowhere to go but down.

Rain meets concrete and I am empty once again.

I turn away, but his claw-like fingers find a wisp of my shift. Clinging. Pulling.

I step forward, dragging him. One inch. One foot.

I stop to peer over my shoulder, to see if he’s still there. If he’s still devoted to me.

His flesh has betrayed him, streaking gore across the gritty floor, leaving him in strips and chunks.

It is my turn to whimper. To moan. To mourn the loss of such beautiful, delicious meat.

I kneel to him. Take his face in my grotesque hands. Press my plump mouth to his sealed lips. Drag my hot tongue along the bitter muscle that is his.

And I squeeze.

Do you have a fiction fragment? How about your friends? Would you like to recommend someone to me aside from yourself? Drop me a line at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Guidelines: Submit 500-1000 words of fiction, up to 5 poems, a short bio, and a recent author photo to the e-mail above.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Hannibal Lecter

A few days ago I mentioned that several serial killers made my list of fuckable fictional characters. Don’t judge me. Monsters can be beautiful. Especially if those monsters hold up a mirror to society and show us how monstrous we can all really be.

Serial killers are terrifying. Fictional serial killers, when well crafted, can become an endless source of fascination. Thomas Harris, a master of characterization, created one of the most famous fictional serial killers of all time – Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

February 6: Dr. Hannibal Lecter

My first encounter with Dr. Lecter was in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 film, Silence of the Lambs, which according to IMDb had a release date of February 14. Happy birthday to me! I watched the film with my mom and Aunt Vanessa when it became available on cable. They had both read the novel and Harris’ first novel featuring Lecter, Red Dragon. They talked about the character like high school girls discussing the hottest boy at school. Look, at least I come by my weirdness honestly.

Hopkins-Close-Up

I’ll be your date for the evening.

At the time, I was excited about the film because they were so excited, but after watching Anthony Hopkins’ performance as the cannibalistic psychiatrist, I fell in love too. Think what you will about that statement, but I don’t have to justify what turns me on. Would I date an actual serial killer? Not intentionally. Will I continue to find certain fictional ones sexy and totally fuckable? Hell yeah!

Hannibal Lecter is an incredibly interesting character with an epic backstory. He’s an accomplished musician and artist, as well as a psychiatrist and behavioral analysis expert. He speaks several languages and has an appreciation for art and culture. He likes the finer things in life, including clothes, antiques, and opulent interior design. And, he is above all else a lover of fine food. His culinary skills are sought after by his acquaintances, and his dishes would please the pickiest gourmand. But here’s the catch. One of the primary ingredients in his culinary creations is the flesh of his victims. He not only enjoys eating people, but also takes pleasure in feeding human flesh to his guests.

I’ll admit that initially my feelings about Dr. Lecter confused me. Lecter’s actions are undoubtedly horrific, but his personality and demeanor (when he isn’t brutally murdering someone and eating them) makes him one of the most attractive characters in fiction. Yes, I’m fully aware that he is a psychopath. In fact, that is probably one of the reasons why he is so charming. He has had to master the spectrum of human emotions in order to blend in with the rest of us mere mortals. His intellect and skills place him in a position of authority, and his wealth gives him access to the upper echelons of society. Smart, rich men of European decent can literally get away with murder. Before you get all offended by that statement, pick up a history book. Hell, pick up the newspaper.

Suit

What’s that? You’re here to eat my children? Do you prefer them baked, broiled, or fried?

Many of Hannibal’s victims are his patients. Fellow psychopaths and sociopaths who haven’t found their true calling, and seek his services as a psychiatrist. As an expert on human behavior, Lecter has a knack for targeting a person’s strengths. Through manipulation and often guidance, he encourages his prey to act upon their strengths, no matter how dangerous or morally corrupt. Then he makes a game out of turning these strengths against his prey, making them weaknesses. Once that person is completely vulnerable and trusts him, he strikes. And he doesn’t waste his time on the dregs of society. He typically targets people who are intellectual peers and experts in their own fields. However, one of his own weaknesses is his need to be the smartest person in the room, which causes him to underestimate other people’s intellect at times. Despite this evil game he plays with people, some of his victims probably could benefit from being murdered.

Attracted-Psycho

Yeah, that guy is totally on the menu.

In the first novel in the series, Red Dragon, Lecter is in prison. We learn that prior to the opening of the book, he helped an FBI profiler, Will Graham, track a serial killer who actually turns out to be Lecter. Lecter and Graham developed a respect for each other as colleagues and we are given the sense that they were friends, but Will begins to to see that there is something dark and suspicious about the doctor. Will knows a serial killer when he meets one, but he almost loses his life at the hands of Lecter.

Caught

It is possible to be too committed to your work.

Will Graham, the protagonist of Red Dragon, is also an amazing character. His relationship with Lecter, although nearly fatal, continues after Graham puts Lecter behind bars. Graham and the FBI make use of Lecter’s skills to catch other serial killers. In the novel, the two characters have a relatively normal working relationship. On many levels they respect each other’s abilities, but they do not become close friends. I suppose it’s difficult to remain friends with someone who tries to eviscerate you.

Hamlet

It’s hard to build lasting relationships when you try to kill everyone you know.

Like many fans of the cannibalistic psychiatrist, I equated Lecter to Anthony Hopkins. His portrayal of Lecter in Silence of the Lambs earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor, and he reprised the role in two other films, Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002). I couldn’t imagine anyone else filling Lecter’s gorgeous Italian leather loafers.

Hopkins-Hannibal-Mask

This is how you win awards.

Well, not until the Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen, put on a well-tailored suit and treated the American public to an award-worthy performance as the infamous doctor in Bryan Fuller’s TV adaptation that depicts a re-imagining of the events leading up to Lecter’s capture. Fuller’s artistic vision of Harris’ work provides a smorgasbord of opulent sets, a wardrobe to kill for, and scenes that reference some of Fuller’s cinematic influences, like David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick.

After I finished watching the second season, I re-watched Twin Peaks to satisfy my suspicions that I wasn’t just imagining the fact that certain scenes and images reminded me of David Lynch’s work. Fuller’s references to Lynch’s use of lighting, textures, patterns, and unique objects were unmistakable. And, when Will Graham woke up choking and spit up a whole human ear, I thought I had died and gone to cultural reference heaven. I literally squealed, bounced up and down, and shouted, “No fucking way!” It was my reward for being such a geek about cinematic imagery.

While Fuller’s cinematic vision took me to new levels of giddiness each week, Mads Mikkelsen took an intellectually stimulating character and turned him into a sex symbol. Of course, Mads does that in nearly every role because…well…just look at him.

No seriously, gaze upon him.

Stunning, right? Well, he isn’t just a perfect specimen of complete and total fuckability. He’s also an accomplished, award-winning actor with an incredible range of emotion that made Lecter not only charming and frightening, but also someone we almost feel sympathy for and secretly hope that he escapes capture.

Fuller’s vision of what happens before Red Dragon brings Hannibal and Will closer together. They become more than just colleagues. They become friends, and eventually accomplices. Lecture pushes Graham over the edge to embrace his madness. Literally.

ATTENTION: SPOILER ALERT

As Will gets to know Hannibal more intimately, he suspects what his friend is up to. Hannibal considers Will his closest and only friend, and wishes to awaken Will’s potential to become a murderer. In order to capture Lecter, Will becomes like him. A choice that becomes dangerous for both men as well as everyone else in their lives. Lies, deception and manipulation become the tools that Will turns against Lecter. In the process, they forge a bond where mutual respect and genuine affection exist. Lecter is attracted to Will. He finds the FBI profiler fascinating and desperately wants him to be a peer. Hannibal develops a bit of a crush on Will, and Will’s obsession with Hannibal mimics the emotional state of someone who is falling in love.

Fuller uses this dynamic to create some extremely hot homoerotic scenes that inspired fans of the show to loving refer to their relationship as Hannigram. You may or may not be shocked by some of the fan art that pops up on Pinterest, Tumblr, and DeviantArt.com.

But how can you blame them when there are unexpectedly erotic scenes like this?

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Excuse me, I need a moment alone.