February 20, 2018
You mean the bloodshed, body counts, and madness inherent in my work? Or the graphic depictions of rabies and yellow fever deaths? Well, it is a gothic novel in the truest, literary sense of the word, thus designed to be atmospheric and sensationally distressing. We navigate this world using our senses, so stories that lack sensual detail feel “empty” to me. Hollow. I like to provide an immersive experience. Maybe submerge is a better term, for my stories do invite the reader to a sink into the deep waters of emotion. And yeah, I guess I do kinda enjoy making people squirm.
Why do you move toward the terror, rather than turn and run? Seriously, how do you do that?
In her poem titled “Why Are Your Poems So Dark?”, Linda Pastan writes:
“Isn’t the moon dark too,
most of the time?
And doesn’t the white page
without the dark stain of alphabets?”
I love that so much. After all, the darker the shadow, the brighter the light.
A therapist once told me that people stay with what’s comfortable and familiar to them, even if it’s dangerous or unhealthy. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, as the saying goes. So obviously, I’m very comfortable with it. But shying away from what’s painful or scary doesn’t allow the experience to be processed and transformed into growth and wisdom. I say, move into it. I tell my writing students to go into the uncomfortable places. The writing that’s hard, that makes you feel squirrelly…go there. Do that. Because if you dam the flow of emotion, you create stagnant eddies inside yourself and the current will just keep pushing the same garbage around in a circle. Who wants to be a garbage-filled eddy?
There’s an episode of Seinfeld (“The Muffin Tops”) where Kramer, off-screen, opens his robe, revealing to Jerry what we imagine is a horrifyingly hairy chest. Jerry recoils as Kramer demands, “Look at it! Look at it!” So I present terror on the page and demand that readers look at it. Absorb it. Allow that pain to initiate a catalytic process of transmogrification. Ignored wounds tend to not heal and being afraid of our own darkness doesn’t serve us. However, mine is an urge that’s more surgical than exhibitionistic. We must cut open the body to see the disease inside in order to remove it.
The year since the election has been absolutely brutal. The electoral college put into office a crass degenerate, which caused the infection inside America’s cultural underbelly to suppurate. That long-simmering boil of systemic racism and misogyny that has sickened so many of us finally swelled and burst. Now, we roil through successive waves of revelation, rebuttals and retribution and it’s just gonna keep bubbling up until we heal the contamination within the deepest levels of our society.
Then you must love scary stuff, like Halloween haunted houses and escape rooms.
Fuck, no! Nope, nope, nope. Halloween is the best time of the year, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna blunder through some poorly-lit labyrinth while some carnie in a Leatherface mask shakes a running chainsaw at me. Hard pass! I also dislike Disneyland, roller coasters, amusement park rides, getting splashed, sunny beaches, or frolicking of any kind. Pretty much anything that other people consider fun, I frown upon. According to my children, I am notoriously “unfun.”
Ugh, you must be a real Debbie Downer.
Au contraire! I am actually quite hilarious and very silly. Slapstick and puns slay me—especially British comedy. Indeed, I crack myself up in my sleep all the time. Giggles punctuate my dreams. Believe me, I’m a comedy genius…like really smart.
There’s also a lot of sex in your novel. You dirty bird, you!
Because it’s a love story. All my stories are love stories. Do not confuse this with a happily-ever-after romance. No, mine are the “I would feed you my heart on a plate with a red wine reduction, I would crawl into your ribcage and make a home for myself there” kind of dark, obsessional romances that border on deranged. They’re bloody and poetic. Victorian gothic adoration that transcends time and the grave. Delicious.
It’s straight-up bizarre that we have normalized patriarchal sexual aggression in politics, business, and pop culture and yet the erotic content in my books raises eyebrows. Blame the Puritans! (Shakes fist.) I think it’s because I’m a woman, not an old white man publicly obsessing over the extra-curriculars of his peen or writing futuristic fetish novels about sex robots. Gah! Don’t we have enough of that? (See: the classic literary canon. See: Hollywood.)
The House of Erzulie is a tangle of ties. Each of the characters is bound by lust, love, obligation, fealty, and spiritual and physical yearning. For me, it’s easier to convey intimacy through an erotic scene because that’s where so many us experience those deep connections. There are few times in our lives when we become as invested and enmeshed in another person as we do during a birth, sex, or a death. It’s yet another holy trinity.
What do you have on your desk?
Family photos. Various artworks. Obama as Malcom X. A postcard of St. John Coltrane, one of the glorious icons that hang in San Francisco’s Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church, where both my kids were baptized. Also, a bird’s nest we found in the bushes in front of our house; a woodland scene featuring baby Scleich animals; pinecones, moss, acorn caps and other stuff I’ve picked up; a wooden box painted inside with image of Vlad the Impaler and Bran Castle that I bought in Romania; brown, glass prescription bottles of phenobarbital and atabrine; an unopened package of Spice Girls Chupa Chups Crazy Dips (1998); an acrylic painting of Sporty Spice/Melanie C. as Our Mother of Perpetual Help; nail polish; India ink; quill pens and sealing wax; notebooks; laptop; a CD of Prince’s The Gold Experience, which I bought off eBay so that I could hear a better-than-mp3 quality version of “I Hate U” ’cause Prince takes me to church; hi-fidelity speakers with a subwoofer; bookmaking stuff; CBD chocolate that I’m too paranoid to eat (although a mouse polished off another piece I had in a drawer and survived); a mousetrap.
You’re a practitioner of the dying art of touch typing, is that correct?
Yes. I failed a class in seventh grade and had to go to summer school to make up the credits. I took typing, which has come in handy now that I’m a professional writer. The teacher appeared to be about 85 years old and completely checked out. I spent my class time writing General Hospital fan fiction about John Stamos’ character Blackie Parrish. It’s also where I learned how to write a check, which explains my credit score.
What does the future hold for you?
Hopefully, a Pulitzer. Mostly, I’d just like to be less awkward.
Your bio says “she quietly advocates for introvert rights from the privacy of her home.” Speak on that.
(Subject gently shushes the interviewer before running away.)
KIRSTEN IMANI KASAI is a writer and editor who teaches creative writing and English composition. Her third novel, The House of Erzulie, a Gothic tale set 1850s New Orleans, will be published in February 2018 by Shade Mountain Press. She owns MagicWordEditingCo.com, which helps writers of all stripes reach their goals, and is the publisher and editor of Body Parts Magazine: The Journal of Horror & Erotica. Kirsten has an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She lives with her partner and children in San Diego, CA, where she quietly advocates for introvert rights from the privacy of her home. Find her at KirstenImaniKasai.com.