Tonia Brown writes steampunk and zombie fiction. Her book Badass Zombie Road Trip is getting some great reviews. She blogs at The Backseat Writer, where she claims to be making sex and violence fun since 1869. She met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about subjectivity and DNA conditioning.
What happened to sex and violence before 1869 and do you think steampunk is a revolutionary genre?
I love the tagline “Making sex and violence fun since 1869” for two reasons. I like poking fun at this popular notion that the Victorians were a bunch of innocent babes. While its true they weren’t as open with their indiscretions as we are, the folks of the late 1800’s weren’t quite the naive prude we make them out to be. I think the notion arises not just from the fact that the Victorians put up a good front, but also from the idea that every generation thinks they invented sex. The gods only know why that is true. I mean, you and I are living proof our parents had some notion about how it all works, but still we like to believe our conception was by osmosis.
The second thing I love about the tagline is, I have to admit, a bit childish. I chose 1869 simply because I like the numbers. I wanted something in the 1800’s because I find myself writing a lot of fiction in that era, and 69 is a good number for someone of a filthy mindset. Yeah, I said it was childish, didn’t I?
As for steampunk, I don’t know if I’d say it’s a revolutionary genre. I’m not sure steampunk is changing anything, though it is shaking the literary world up a bit with its increasing popularity. I think refreshing is a good word for it, though I’m sure there are those who would argue that.
If you consider sexually motivated crime, what do you think the differences are between pathological female sexuality and pathological male sexuality?
I think the first conclusion folks would like to leap to, and I know I do, is that the female would lean toward emotional reasons for their crimes (dominance and control of an emotional situation using sex as a tool or weapon) while men would lean toward physical reasons (pure animal instinct of dominance with pleasure and sexual release). This, interestingly enough, is a notion we can thank the Victorians for. Victorian theorists such as Herbert Spencer and Patrick Geddes created a series of polar opposite traits for males and females to explain their psychological differences. Males were considered active and aggressive while females were thought of as sedentary and nurturing. This birthed the notion that women weren’t interested in the physical acts of love, but rather the emotional fulfillment, but men were in it only for the orgasms. This ultimately led to the concept that women were frigid, and men were animals.
Realistically, however, I believe the opposite is true. Female sexual predators (the few there are) have been known to be very aggressive and their crimes are often about pure physical dominance, while the male predators find their aggression stemming from emotional issues, often to do with pleasing daddy or trying to cut ties with their mother.
But in the end its always about dominance, either way.
Do you think the internalised Freudian imago of the father is what lets us down or do you think it is gender specific?
I must admit, I’m not a big Freud fan. (We all become ‘daddy’s girls’ because we can’t forgive our mothers for not having a penis? I mean really?) Freud’s theories were based upon the Victorian notion that women were incapable of contributing to relationships (and by extension, society) in anything more than a supporting role. I think that as a result, a lot of his theories were gender biased. He was a man, understood men, and thus wrote about how men worked. Then he applied theses same concepts to women by, in most cases, reversing all of his ideas. (i.e. Castration Anxiety became Penis Envy.)
Personally I think we have a pair of internalized parents, reflecting our dualism of spirit. (Yes, I am a sucker for Jung!) We might lean on one more than the other, depending on our shifts in mood. And, quite frankly, I think they both let us down all the time. (Or at least mine do!)
In relation to the previous question, I think that men have more trouble ‘letting daddy or mommy down’ because we as a society don’t allow men to have feelings. Love is a four letter word to some guys, and weeping is a weakness that is almost expected in women, but frowned upon in men. This manifests in some psychotic breaks as a physical out lash for emotional control through sexual dominance.
Bear in mind I am not a professional psychotherapist, and as far as theories go these words are as about as substantial as smoke. These are just some wild observations made after a lifetime of reading and watching horror and thrillers, living with a husband who fancies himself a bit of a learned man, and sharing my likeness (I’m an identical twin) with a serial killer ‘buff.’
Given the fact that you are an identical twin what do you think of Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious?
My short answer to this is, Jung was right on!
My long answer is that not only was Jung onto something, he had it by the throat. I am a firm believer in the concept of collective unconscious, both as a tie in to our psychology and as a spiritual conduit to our soul. (I hope that dosen’t sound as flaky as I worry it does.) I think it is important to our spiritual and mental well being that we understand how the different aspects of this collective effect both our conscious and unconscious states. Jung’s hypothesis of how we pass down ancestral memories and ideals through anything from sounds to shapes to colors goes right alongside one of human being’s most natural instinct: pattern matching. And to me, pattern matching explains a whole heck of a lot about our metaphysical and mental functions.
In relation to my being an identical twin, I can honestly say that yes, we share a ‘collective unconscious’ of sorts. I have lots of stories about us sharing feelings, both emotional and physical, both within sighting distance of one another and over several states. For instance, I caught a face full of softball at age 12 while playing catcher during a ball game and as a result broke my nose. She was at bat when it happened with her back to me, but dropped the bat, grabbed her nose and started screaming blue murder. Everyone crowds her to see what is wrong, while I stagger about with gallons of blood gushing from my aching proboscis, to dazed to squeal. It wasn’t until she revealed that nothing was wrong that someone finally took notice of me. To this day she maintains she felt her nose literally blow a seam, the same feeling I got when the ball hit my face.
And yeah, we do that kind of stuff all the time.
Based on the strength of your DNA conditioning do you believe we have free will?
In the grand scope of things, yes, I believe we have free will. DNA conditioning only guides us so far. If we have a shared consciousness that connects with all of the generations past (and future?) you would think that our actions would just become automatic based upon our past ‘experience’ with situations. But I think it’s that very shared connection that encourages free will. The need to gain more data input to shape and foster future generations by continual trial and error.
Do you think most human beings define themselves by the people who are around them and do you think that involves an unwritten lie?
Yes, all human beings are influenced, both in deed and thought, by those around them. One’s personality is shaped by those they interact with, from babies repeating their parent’s words to full grown adults smoking because ‘everyone else in the department smokes.’ Personally I am a walking quote book of movies, books and my husband’s adages.
But does this art of mimicry inherently involve an unwritten lie? About what? That this isn’t who you really are just because your behavior is similar to others? Just because something derives its meaning from context, doesn’t make it a lie. We often set ourselves up with undesirable behavior patterns based on social acceptance, but it’s this same society that will judge us harshly later for this same behavior. Aye, there’s the rub.
To what extent do you think reality is a shared collective subjectivity?
Whenever someone mentions the subjectivity of reality I immediately think of my current job. I work as an Emergency Department receptionist for a hospital that deals with a lot of mental health patients. As a result I get wide perspective of possible realities. Is it the one where we are all either angels or demons? (and make note only demons need to wear clothes) Or is it the one where the government implants cameras in our eyes at our birth to control the things we see? Or maybe it’s the one where taking tons of drugs is a really good idea?
This said, I realize that it’s easy to dismiss these examples as over the top, or signs of mental illness, but how far should that dismissal go? When does reality separate itself from mere opinion? When does your reality trump mine?
I think that it’s hard to believe in a collective consciousness and not believe in a certain level of shared reality. How much of it is shared, I really can’t say. I used to think the existence of gravity or physical manifestation or even death was enough to form a reality. Then I read Richard Bach’s JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL and from that point on I wasn’t so sure. Here, years later, I try not to worry or think too much about it, for fear everything I am fairly sure is real won’t be. Good or bad.
You are given a large sum of money to carry out a hit. How would you do it to avoid detection?
It is my sincerest belief that crime novels and television have made a fantasy land out of forensic sciences. I don’t doubt that we have come a long way in our criminal detection capabilities, but I think fiction wins out in most depictions, lending to a notion that cops are super heroes capable of locating a serial killer from a single cell of blood. It’s all about entertainment of course. The boring reality is most criminals either slip up because they get haughty or partners turn them in. So we as authors feel we must create all sorts of elaborate plans to kill someone without being caught or else it will be dullsville.
In reality, I think it would be pretty simple to kill someone without detection. The only trouble with your question is that it breaks the cardinal rule of not getting caught: do not involve anyone else in your plan. As Ben Franklin said, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”
That said, if I was sure the boss man would keep his trap shut, I think the best way to off someone is fairly simple. Lure them to the countryside, shoot them and bury the body. I live in what we refer to as the sticks, and folks in the city do not realize the absolute vastness of the real country. Places so remote you can scream and shout all you like and never be heard. Gun shots are a regular business out here, with hunters hunting and farmers killing livestock. The woods are dark and deep. Very deep. Deep enough to swallow your worst sins, and you too if you aren’t careful.
What is the remotest place metaphorically or literally you have ever been and why?
Oh! Finally, an easy one! The astral plane.
Okay, before you mark me down as a complete fruitcake, allow me to expand on that answer.
As an insomniac with a new age bent I have tried all sorts of holistic methods to cure myself of my sleeping woes. (Slow to fall asleep accompanied by sleep tics and periodic waking.) One of these methods was to engage in a bit of astral travel. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean flying about the astral plane, playing peeping Tom on everyone I know. No. The idea played upon the concept that part of insomnia was due the inability to still the mind. Which, by the way, is entirely true. Thus, through guided meditation using visualization techniques you were supposed to design and build a temple dedicated to the blessed act of sleep. Once this building was concrete in your mind’s eye, you were to project your overactive unconscious self into that place, thus allowing your physical body to relax and get much needed rest.
This didn’t go well for me. Oh, sure I dropped right off during the soft spoken monotone recording, but I always managed to fall asleep in the initial phases of my so called building. And of course, because I never got quite past the beginning part, I felt far too guilty to move on down the series of recordings and listen to the other sections such as decorating your temple, or projecting yourself into said temple. I tried playing the tape from the middle, around where I would always fall asleep, but it never seemed to matter. Again I fell asleep but always dreamed of unfinished masterpieces. It did little for my self esteem and even worse for the astral environment.
I suppose the astral plane is still littered with half built piles of rubble, all bearing a sign that says something like, “Coming Soon! Tonia’s Sleep Temple! Watch your head!” If you happen to travel the astral plane, and see my various works in progress, just turn aside and ignore them, please. After a month of trying to complete just one temple I grew tired of the effort and abandoned the method. I turned to Benadryl as a sleep aid and have been popping 50mg a day ever since.
In the literal sense of the question, I spent part of my youth in Okinawa, Japan. (My father was military.)
Which is better, crunchy or smooth peanut butter?
I show a preference for smooth in my adulthood, but only for pragmatic reasons. My husband doesn’t care for crunchy, and atop that I have an impacted molar that gets bits of hard foodstuff stuck in it if I’m not careful. (A very uncomfortable feeling, to say the least!) Therefore, we stick to smooth in the Brown house. However, I was raised to love the crunchy stuff. My father used to dote on crunchy. So much so that if he ended up with a jar of smooth by some unhappy accident, he would put bacon bits on his sandwich to simulate the crunch.
Yes, I said bacon bits.
After a few years of this he forewent the crunchy altogether, and just started buying a jar of smooth peanut butter and a shaker of bacon bits like they were some magical gourmet duo one couldn’t live without. He also started putting vanilla sandwich cookies on his peanut butter sandwich, but that’s a whole different story.
Thank you Tonia for a smart and entertaining interview.
Tonia’s website and webserial Railroad!
Tonia’s books on Amazon:
‘Badass Zombie Road Trip’ – US and UK
‘Zombie Kong – Anthology’ – US and UK
‘Railroad! Volume One: Rodger Dodger (a steampunk western)’ – US
‘Railroad!: The Three Volume Omnibus’ – US and UK
‘Lucky Stiff (An Erotic Zombie Book)’ – US and UK
‘Anthology of Steam Punk’ – US
‘Eyewitness Zombie’ – US
‘Steampunk Tales: Issue 5’ – US
‘Steampunk Tales: Issue 9’ – US
‘Hell Hath No Fury’ – US and UK
‘Probing Uranus’ – US and UK
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