Angela Alsaleem is a writer of the macabre and member of the ITW and HWA. She lives in Northern California. She has written two novels, Sanitarium and Women Scorned.
Angela met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about the relationship between sexuality and murder, and horror fiction. To what extent do you think sexuality and murder are connected?
Sexuality and murder can be related at times; however, not all murders are related to sex or sexuality. Murder is one person killing another. Humans do this for many reasons: drugs, war, gangs, hate, insanity. Sexuality is one of those reasons, but not the most prevalent.
In my novel, Women Scorned, however, the majority of the murders are directly related to sexuality. The spirits in this book seethe with their last tortured moments, continuing to haunt their murderers, seeking the one to avenge their deaths. Camilla, the main character, is their tool of vengeance. In creating these spirits, I had to wonder what type of murder would be so hateful that the victims carry that anger into the afterlife. Their deaths had to be violent and personal.
Do you think death is an opening or a closure?
Death is the opening to the unknown and the closure to existence as we know it. No one knows for certain what lies beyond.
In Women Scorned, I used the pagan concept of the spirit world for the back drop of my story. The spirit realm has several levels, the first being filled with angry or lost spirits. This level is very much like hell, the spirits trapped there until they are able to overcome their anger and ascend to higher levels. In my novel, death is an opening to this world and what exists beyond.
Tell us about Women Scorned.
At its heart, Women Scorned is a story about revenge and how it may make one feel better in the moment, but in the end, it is a poison that eats at the soul. It’s a graphic, gory, violent romp with scenes of torture, rape, and murder, so it’s certainly not for the squeamish.
After Camilla is murdered, an ancient spirit possesses her, to use her body as its tool of vengeance. Tortured by visions of murdered women, she is thrust into a world of terror as she seeks a way to rid herself of the nightmare she has become.
Her dead flesh hungers however for a substance that only exists on the breaths of criminals. Their tortured souls fill her, complete her, injecting her with more energy than she ever possessed while living. Like an addict, she is torn between ending her suffering and tasting retribution.
A secret cult in need of her spirit, for an ancient ritual, has sent their Chosen One to capture her, a dark virgin who delights in teaching unwilling victims the pleasures of pain. The spirit inhabiting Camilla’s body is their key to unlocking hell and unleashing a horde of demons into the human realm.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Camilla learns this first hand on her journey through death and back again.
Who are your literary influences?
I fell in love with the horror genre after reading Christopher Pike’s Chain Letter series when I was a kid. My world was never the same. I knew movies could be scary, but it was so much better to delve into a scary book.
Once I was a bit older, I turned to Stephen King. I’ve read almost all his work, so you could say that King has been a major influence. His book, On Writing, is one I refer to quite often.
I started reading Anne Rice when I realized that I didn’t just want to daydream about writing, but that I actually wanted to make it happen. I wanted to see how women wrote horror and I wanted to expand my list of books. I was not disappointed. Her vampire series quickly became a favorite.
When I was in college, writers like Joyce Carol Oates and David Foster Wallace opened my eyes to the craft itself and the idea that there are no hard-fast rules when it comes to writing. In Oates’s books, Zombie and Rape: A Love Story, I saw form broken down. Though her books are written largely in fragments, a reader can understand everything that happens. In Zombie, there are certain scenes that are repeated, word for word. I thought is this good writing? And I realized, yes. It’s brilliant, as a matter of fact, because the book was all from the perspective of a man who wanted to make a zombie. It was his journal. Of course he would repeat that.
David Foster Wallace’s book, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, showed me that a book doesn’t have to be linear, a story can be a quick set of dialogue, and that you can actually understand what is happening even if huge chunks of text and dialogue are missing. I’ve written several stories where the only voice heard is the one telling the story. The inspiration to do so came from this book.
Over all, I read everything I can. I love a book that can scare me, so I set out to write a book that would make it difficult for me to turn out the lights. I think I succeeded in Women Scorned. This book is essentially my nightmare.
In distinguishing between male and female horror fiction how would you say the differences between male and female sexuality influences the subject matter?
This probably isn’t exactly a good thing, but I have to confess, I haven’t read too many female horror authors. I know there are quite a few out there, but, so far, I haven’t found any that write what I am truly interested in reading. Maybe I should make it a point to do that. Anne Rice is the closest I’ve come to reading horror from a female author, but I’m not sure that her work is strictly horror. Her characters tend to be a bit flowery, her language more poetic. Her descriptions are based on romantic sensations like pleasant fragrances and soft touches, and her characters are very into their melancholy emotions.
The male authors I’ve read are more into the physical sensations, the odors and the raw emotions of anger and fear. When it comes to reading horror, I have tended more toward male authors because, based on my limited exposure, I’ve found the male authors to be more likely to really get down and dirty with the characters, unafraid to shy away from the gore and violence. I’m sure there are female authors who do the same, but I haven’t found any.
Since this is more in line with what I like to read, this is what I set out to write with Women Scorned. I’ve never read a horror novel with an all-female cast, so I wanted to be sure that all the main characters were women. I challenged myself to be unafraid of writing through the tough scenes rather than around them.
I’ve heard it said that an author should never be vulgar, but I disagree. An author must be true. If the reader is to truly understand what a character has gone through, then merely mentioning that something horrible happened and then writing how the characters feel afterwards isn’t enough. I wanted my readers to feel just as dirty and abused as my characters.
As for how my characters are portrayed, me being a female author and all, I’ll leave that up to my readers to say if I am keeping up with my male counterparts. All I can do is be true to myself and true to the story, as I’m sure any author strives to do.
Is there a particular event that has changed you and influenced your writing?
Earning my BA in English with a minor in creative writing taught me that there was a lot I didn’t know about writing. I learned what separated great writing from the bad, what made books become legend. I learned that just because I like it, doesn’t mean it works in the story. Nothing happens in Women Scorned that isn’t intentional. Is it violent? You bet. Do I shy away? No. But every moment is there for a solid reason. If it didn’t move the story, I cut it out.
Violence is usually considered a male characteristic. Do you think there is a distinct female violence?
There is a distinct female violence and it’s motivated by different needs compared to male violence. Traditionally, men use violence to assert dominance. On the other hand, women are usually violent to defend themselves or their offspring. Of course, there are exceptions in both categories.
In my writing, I prefer to explore the exception rather than the rule. Aludra is one who is violent simply for the sake of being violent. She is not trying to assert dominance or defend herself. She is merely exploring the pleasures varying degrees of pain can instill, and is experimenting with what pain can do to the soul. Camilla’s violence is motivated by vengeance and defense. All the men in the story are violent to assert dominance. Aludra is my exception to the rule in Women Scorned.
Do you think there is no such thing as a sadist but there are varying degrees of sado-masochism?
Everyone has varying degrees of sadism and masochism embedded in their personalities. It’s a sliding scale that oscillates within people from situation to situation. Some people only slide within the sadistic range and others within the masochistic. I prefer to focus on those who are in between. These characters have more depth and are more relatable.
Aludra from Women Scorned plays more in the sadistic side of the scale, relishing the pain of others. The masochists in the story are those who dwell within the cult, slaves to the whims of their masters, doing anything to please.
What are you working on now?
I always have a couple stories in the works. Currently, I’m working on a psychological thriller/supernatural horror. When the line between real and imagined threats becomes blurred, when you can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is illusion, how do you know who to trust? How do you escape? How do you discover the truth? We all have a darkness within us, but some have a deeper darkness, and, once forgotten, who would want to remember the terrible deeds of their pasts? This one has changed several times, otherwise I could give you more basic plot points. As it stands, I’m starting from scratch yet again. With all my works, they go through several rewrites before I discover the heart of the story. I don’t think I’ll need to rewrite this one as many times, however.
What scares you?
I’ve always used my writing as a way to confront my fears. Crazy people scare me because they are unpredictable. Their reality is not the reality I perceive. They don’t follow the same rules the rest of us follow. Also, ghosts scare me for the same reason, however ghosts are scarier because they also aren’t bound by the same rules in which we are bound. The worst…a crazy ghost. Women Scorned has several characters that are obsessed, insane and angry. It was frightening to me.
Thank you Angela for an informative and perceptive interview.