In 2001, after three years of research and planning, I wrote my first novel: Terata Americana of the Raving Variety. “Terata americana” is Latin for “American monsters”. The book was actually my university honour’s thesis for my degree in Anthropology, an exercise in feminist ethnography, and one that eventually received distinction for excellence. The Latin title was a jab at the early anthropologists who were so desperate to be considered “real” scientists that they resorted to such notorious enterprises as drawing conclusions about the lesser intelligence of Africans, Asians and Native Peoples based on their physical attributes.
Come 2004, I started blogging and once I set up my own website I included the novel within. There it remained until 2007, when I first started bandying around the idea of revisiting and revamping the project. I changed the title to a simpler, American Monsters, and only maintained the first two chapters online, the stories of Dentata and Jason Mars.
2009 heralded my decision to self-publish the novel, certain was I that its unorthodox format would turn off traditional publishers, who would surely require me to transform the text from its post-modern state into a more linear narrative. Because the story, and its packaging, came from such a specific and raw place after the murder of my friend Wendy as well as generalised disillusionment about life in the United States, I balked at changing the tone even though so many years later I found the level of violence in the novel to be excessive. The one thing I did change was the original apocalyptic ending.
On April 4, 2010, I launched the book online and via print-on-demand and began work on the sequel, American Monsters in Prague.
December of 2010, I sent American Monsters I to the newly launching Ghostwoods Books, who signed me on almost immediately after reading it. From my agent: “American Monsters is a post-modern feminist horror story — and a savage indictment of the Rave scene.” YES!
We decided to add illustrations to the amped up second edition as well as some of the academic essays I had written about theoretical issues that inspired the creation of each character. I also wrote a supplementary essay about my friend Wendy’s death, going through the events from October 28, 2000 all the way to May 20, 2011.
In the meantime, I’ve since discovered that American Monsters in Prague is actually book number three, and the actual sequel is American Monsters in Los Angeles. Unlike the first novel, which is written in the horror genre, its sequel is a crime novel that happens to feature monsters/superheroes, and the third will be a horror-fantasy hybrid. I’m trying not to think too far ahead since I’m going at a turtle’s pace with books two and three, but there is a great possibility that a future novel will be American Monsters in D.C., and will be something of a political thriller/speculative fiction about Marilyn Monroe.
Earlier this year a friend of mine joked on my American Monsters Facebook page, “I hope Lady Gaga knows that…you were Monstering way before she was.” And he’s right. I’m a huge Gagaist and I often wonder if my decade-long message is mistaken as a product of Gaga’s far-reaching message.
To put my American Monsters in perspective: Lady Gaga was 15 years old when I first wrote Terata Americana and she didn’t start calling her fans “little monsters” until the summer of 2009.
I love that in these last ten years since I first conceived of my hybrid monster superheroines (each borne from surviving horrific traumas) the idea of monsters as heroes, as beautiful, as The Other we can aspire to be, has taken off thanks to Lady Gaga’s performance art — my own creatures fit right into the monstrous aesthetic she is making universal.
If I had an audience of 1 million people, my message would be that, like the heroines in American Monsters, each and every person can find some inner well of strength or newly emerging talent from the horrible things that have happened to us: The more we survive the stronger we become. Just like The Blob.
There are millions of survivors of so-called silencing crimes — rape, incest, assault, sexual violence. A great deal of what drives my American Monsters is a striving for a level of justice that the legal system or even society cannot provide. The characters may be monstrous, but they are not the real threats in our world. Their methods may be questionable and sometimes excessive, but still better than maintaining the silence that allows crimes against women to happen again and again, all over the world.
When I first decided to release American Monsters I wanted to make sure and follow it up with a “serious” novel, something literary-fictiony, full of heady prose and heavy on metaphor so that I would not be pigeonholed as the woman who writes about trauma, superpowers and monsters. I wanted to make sure I would be recognised as a “real” writer, not like the highly misunderstood Stephen King whose work actually is literary fiction that happens to feature monsters.
In spite of “monstering” for longer, I have to thank Lady Gaga for giving me the courage to continue developing the twisted beauty of the American Monsters stories: the power these tales have to create a space where the world is different and women aren’t afraid of living their lives or doing their jobs. A world where women are not threats to each other, but instead are each others’ defenders, protectresses; a world where the tables are turned on the men who do bad things to women.
I was born to breed monsters.
©2011 Sezin Koehler