BookView with Jarod Powell, author of She Burned Me Alive

Sometimes I feel like I’m putting my ignorance on display by incorporating sociological elements into my fiction. In a way, I’m doing here what I said I would never do: get political. But I’ve learned firsthand that the political is always personal, and there’s no avoiding it – ever.

Jaron Powell – 6 May 2017

The Back Flap

In the stories that make up She Burned Me Alive, Jarod Powell merges the most horrifying, darkest aspects of humanity with the infolding of spiritual energies—a combination that serves as a postmodern deconstruction of the feminine mystique. These are stories of women backing away from – or succumbing to – many variations of existential horror. Only Jarod Powell could convey a mother’s monstrous sense of regret by way of conjuring her dead son’s ghost through a mirror (“Marianne”). Or could explore the darkest and most hilarious aspects of depression by delineating the suicide of a woman who is simply bored of life (“Asphyxiation”). Or capture the catharsis of a mail-order bride who was sent on a twenty-year mission by her country’s government to poison a Manchurian candidate gone rogue (“Melodia”). Each of these stories is both a complete world and part of the Hawthorn canon, at once absurdly surreal and achingly salient.

About the book

What is the book about?

It’s a feminist horror story collection. It started on my blog, Project Hawthorn, which is being rebuilt. Hopefully it’ll be back up soon.

Every story has a female protagonist who faces some sort of internal form of horror. The scary stuff is mostly psychological. There’s the psych hospital patient who is haunted by her past, which manifests into hallucinations. “Asphyxiation” is about a young woman who puts her head in the oven, Sylvia Plath style. There’s a fictionalized version of a certain First Lady (“Melodia”), and a vampire porn star.

As with my very first short story collection (Inheritance), the common thread – aside from gender – is that they are all citizens of the fictional town of Hawthorn, Missouri.

 

When did you start writing the book?

I start writing things and then I put them away for a while, so it’s hard to say exactly. I think the blog started on Thanksgiving 2015, if I’m not mistaken. So, it would have been around that time.

How long did it take you to write it?

I’d estimate maybe a month total, but spanning over a year. A version of most of these stories started on my Project Hawthorn blog, but they are unrecognizable as stories from that era.

 Where did you get the idea?

That infamous moment with the president and Billy Bush really was the moment I decided to write a bunch of horror stories from a female perspective. You know the moment I’m talking about.

I always need something to do between big projects, so I take the lulls to try my hand at different genres – romance and horror so far.

I’m known for one thing, one type of fiction – this sort of dreary, grungy, literary fiction for young people. That’s where I’m most comfortable but I think the worst nightmare for a creative person is to be pigeon holed, so I try to expand my consciousness and my horizons. I learn about the world by writing, which I guess is a risky thing to do.

Sometimes I feel like I’m putting my ignorance on display by incorporating sociological elements into my fiction. In a way, I’m doing here what I said I would never do: get political. But I’ve learned firsthand that the political is always personal, and there’s no avoiding it – ever.

The main idea with these eBooks is simply to exercise my creative muscles, and if someone wants to pay .99 or whatever to read it, even better.

So on one hand, I’m trying to access these very heavy elements, which is a task not to take lightly. On the other hand, I’m approaching the rendering of these short stories the same way I would a hobby. It’s definitely not a hobby for me, but that mindset relieves the pressure.

I really wanted to mentally work through my privilege as a white man in America, and then step outside of it. Of all of the groups that have come under attack by the POTUS, I think his disrespect of women is the most frightening, and the most telling of where we are, and how little we’ve actually progressed.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

Pretty much from beginning to end. There are growing pains associated with every project, and I usually look forward to them. But this was the first time I attempted to write from a female character’s perspective, let alone several. After I finished it, I took a three-day nap, woke up, and cried a little.

She Burned Me Alive is probably the first overtly political fiction I’ve ever written. If you write fiction and politics doesn’t bleed into it somehow…I have no idea how you can exist as a storyteller in 2017 and not let the current political climate affect your work. For me, it’s impossible. It’s the only way I can make sense of it. I know that now.

And as such, there’s a satirical element to what I do, and it’s not necessarily intentional. I’m much more comfortable observing things from the outside, and sometimes I’m glib.

Most people think that to be glib is to be dishonest. I think you can be glib and honest at the same time. Sarcasm is a type of humor that is deeply wounding, if you do it right – sometimes even more than straightforward brutal honesty. What’s scarier than a killer? A killer who does it with a smirk.

What came easily?

Not really any of it, but Smoke Colored Light was my first short film, so I at least had a visual reference point for it. However, I encountered another challenge in writing that story. I had about thirty pages of notes on the film, but they didn’t do much good when it came to transforming it from a surrealist nightmare into a concrete linear prose poem. I have to say, though, that I had that film in my mind’s eye while writing it – the music, the color scheme – and it eased the struggle a bit.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

Always both, but I might take some characteristics from some people I know and patch them into different characters. If you’re in my inner circle and you’re wondering which character is based on you, chances are it’s actually multiple characters. If I did my job well, you’ll never figure it out.

Do you have a target reader for this book?

Fans of horror, and anyone who enjoys women behaving badly, because I do. Who doesn’t love a bad girl?

My ultimate challenge as a writer of horror is to take the grotesque and make it accessible. However, it’s probably not the type of horror people are used to. There’s some sex and gore of course, but this is the type of horror that hangs around your periphery and haunts you, quietly and slowly. While I hope everyone enjoys it, it’s not for everyone.

In short, this is postmodern horror that also happens to be feminist literary fiction. If you know what most of those words mean, you’ll probably get something out of it.

How was writing this book different from what you’d experienced writing previous books?

It’s a new genre for me. I’m a big fan of horror, but it’s so rarely done well in film or literature. So it required a certain amount of bravery, and a fair amount of stress to get it right.

What new things did you learn about writing, publishing, and/or yourself while writing and preparing this book for publication?

I learned that, as one review put it, I don’t do subtlety. And that’s okay. I’m fine with that.

End of Interview:

For more from Jarod, visit his website.

Get your copy of She Burned Me Alive from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

 

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