Monica S. Kuebler’s YA web serialisation Bleeder went live on January 1 this year. It is a dark edged fantasy/horror crossbreed. Frustrated with the paranormal romance and run-of-the-mill urban fantasy aimed at teenagers and the lack of nerve-wracking horror available to younger readers and with the outline for an epic story at her fingertips, Monica decided to throw her hat in the ring.
Monica is the Rue Morgue editor and owner of micro imprint Burning Effigy Press. She was hard at work on her trilogy The Cold Ones when she first had the idea for Bleeder (which takes place in the same universe).
Read on to discover why Monica decided to serialise free of charge online, her thoughts on the current crop of YA fiction and how her work as an editor and journalist has pushed her in scary directions.
MK: The idea of doing it as a serial popped into my head roughly around October of last year. I had this almost fully formed outline kicking around on my computer for a young adult vampire novel that takes place in the same universe as the YA horror trilogy that I’m going to be shopping to agents and publishers later this year. But, of course, no one’s buying teen vampire novels now that the whole Twilight boom has come and gone, so there just wasn’t going to be much I could do with it except hold onto it indefinitely. So I hatched the idea to write it as a web serial. The story has a tonne of action in it and seemed well suited to the format. Other upstart authors such as David Wellington and Cherie Priest have had great success serialising their horror novels, so I figured why not give it a shot. It’s also been a great way to overcome my stage fright about sharing my fiction with others.
Bleeder has a much darker edge than other YA fiction, as both a shadowy coming-of-age tale and a subversion of vampire tropes. Do you feel there is something unsatisfactory about the current crop of YA fiction marketed towards teenagers?
MK: Yes and no. I’ve said this time and again – I believe there’s room in this world for all sorts of stories, but a lot of the teen fiction currently utilising monsters is doing it to tell tales that are closer in tone to paranormal romance or straight-forward urban fantasy. There are some folks, such as Darren Shan and mainstay R.L. Stine, writing honest-to-goodness horror, but there’s just not as many doing it, and certainly not as many women. When I was a teenager I was absolutely starving for fright fiction, and I can’t help but think that teenage girls like the one I used to be still exist, not that guys won’t also enjoy the story – most of the fan mail I’ve gotten so far is from guys, actually – but there’s definitely a niche I’m trying to fill with my little terror tales.
You trained as a journalist/editor and work as a publisher. How important was this in shaping your worldview and pushing you in the direction your fiction writing is now taking you?
MK: I’m wise to the business side of things, so that definitely influences some of my choices. But journalistic writing is quite different from fiction writing, and as such, I have found myself making several newbie mistakes with Bleeder. More, in fact, than I ever expected to. And I’m not afraid to admit that, as I’m definitely one of those people who learn best from making mistakes. Interestingly, as a result of this, Bleeder has become as much about telling a scary vampire story, as about the process of writing/editing/revising it and using my various public missteps as mini-lessons to help me hone my chops (and the story itself).
The vampire is a creature with a long and rich tradition in the genre. Bleeder takes place in the same universe as your trilogy The Cold Ones. When applying a mythology you’ve created to the vampire, what pitfalls, if any, were you careful to avoid?
MK: I think you are going to risk having people upset with you whenever you toy with a popular creature’s mythology. But I don’t let that stop me, because I don’t want to write the same old horror stories that have been told hundreds of times before. I’m interested in twisting and re-envisioning monster mythologies to create something familiar, but different. In the March issue of Rue Morgue, Anne Rice talks about needing to find her own ‘space in the myth’ and I think that’s just about the perfect way to explain it. I’m not a purist and since vampires don’t actually exist, who’s to say whether they’d fit the version that appears in European folklore or even Bram Stoker’s Dracula if they did? Elements of Bleeder’s vampires will be immediately recognisable – sensitivity to sun, pale complexions, fangs – while others, such as the fact that they are not actually undead (despite how they look and smell) may be more shocking and unexpected.
I immediately liked Mildred. Her world is fractured in the first few chapters by a startling revelation and things turn ugly fast. Will Mildred gain self-recognition over the course of the book and what have you in store for the poor girl?
MK: At the beginning of Bleeder, Mills (Mildred) is a pretty average teenage girl living what is up until then a pretty normal life for a tenth-grader. By the end of it, she’s neither naive nor innocent any longer. She’s forced to do a ridiculous amount of growing up over the course of the book with almost no guidance or appropriate role models and she definitely gains a lot more self-recognition as she does so, and while I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I will say that what she goes through with the vampires changes her dramatically, though perhaps not entirely for the better.
Bleeder is the equal of most of the ‘adult’ books available now. Who are some of your favourite (and not so favourite) writers in the field of YA fiction and why?
MK: Wow, that’s quite the compliment. Thank you. I really enjoy the work of Darren Shan, Daniel Kraus (Rotters) and Scott Westerfeld, who did his own incredibly clever take on vampirism in Peeps, which posits it as more of a parasitic infection. Though all four of these ladies write YA that’s closer in spirit to dark urban fantasy, I’ve enjoyed the worlds created by Richelle Mead, Alyxandra Harvey and P.C. and Kristen Cast, and their various takes on popular monsters. I’m also a huge fan of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. I think reading that trilogy gave me the confidence to go as dark and violent as I have with Bleeder, because her books are unbelievably intense and yet still very much aimed at teenage readers.
Justin Erickson created the superb cover for Bleeder, how important was it for you to get the aesthetic just right?
MK: It was absolutely pivotal. People do judge books by their covers, so you want to have a well-designed one that will make readers curious and encourage them to check out your story. I had a rough idea of what I wanted for the Bleeder cover: Mills shackled to a dungeon wall with bite marks on her person. I explained that to Justin and then he asked me all kinds of questions about the character, everything from what Mills looked like, to what her personality was like, to what kind of clothes she wore. I also gave him the first chapter of the story to read. Other than that I put my complete faith and trust in him. Justin, who co-owns Phantom City Creative, does amazing work for Rue Morgue, MondoTees.com and Burning Effigy (he’s designed some of our most striking covers), so I already knew that whatever he’d come up with would be pitch-perfect. When he showed me the rough design, I think I had all of two notes and one was about the font treatment. He captured the bleakness of the book and Mills’ horrific predicament brilliantly.
What can you tell me about the storyline of The Cold Ones?
MK: Almost nothing, sadly. Because The Cold Ones are a monster of my own creation, I’m really hesitant to talk too much about them until the trilogy has found a home. I can tell you that Mills resurfaces in the third book of The Cold Ones trilogy when she’s a few years older than she is in Bleeder; who she is in that narrative, however, is worlds away from who she is now. Living with monsters has definitely had a profound impact on her, and she’s become someone who very much lives life by her own moral code. I think that was part of what made it so tempting to write her origin story. I wanted to explore her evolution from a normal teenager to the destructive force of nature she is when we meet her again.
MK: Don’t ask me that. Seriously. I’m completely incapable of picking my favourite story, vampire or otherwise. As a devoted lover of fiction – both written and filmed – I even have a hard time with top ten lists. Throw these types of questions at me and I might just hum and haw over them forever.
Name some women working in the genre you admire.
MK: I’ve mentioned several above, but outside of horror, there’s J.K. Rowling, whose rags to riches story is absolutely inspiring, as is her ongoing commitment to philanthropy – it’s one thing to become successful and entirely another to use your success to give something back to those less fortunate – and Felicia Day, who crafted her online empire, which includes the amazing gamer-centric web series The Guild, out of sheer determination and hard work (and of course no small amount of talent). But honestly I admire anyone – female or male – who dares to try to make a living doing what they love, regardless of the challenges that chasing their dream may pose. Giving up is easy. Settling for a boring, life-sucking job with a steady pay-cheque and benefits is easy. Taking risks is hard. Putting your work out there for public consumption and criticism is hard. Having your entire family think you’re crazy because you won’t give up on writing/art/filmmaking etc is hard. I have nothing but the utmost admiration and respect for everyone who is willing to traverse all of that difficult stuff just so they can live their dream.