Veronica The Pajama Thief writes absorbing prose in which she explores areas of psychic darkness that edge over into horror. The vivid physical descriptions in her narratives anchor her thematic dramatisation of emotional areas that disturb. She has a strong and subtle voice. Nyquil Dreams, which was published at Pulp Metal Magazine, is a good example of her work. She is a courageous writer who skilfully evokes her characters’ inner lives.
She met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about culture and totalitarianism.
Do you think cultural exile is necessary for a writer?
Yes. And… no. It rather depends on the context of the exile. And, the writer.
In the context of isolating oneself to meet a deadline, cultural exile is necessary… at least, I have found it so. On more than one occasion, I have locked myself in a room armed only with Bella… my laptop and constant companion… and a head full of words. No television… no radio… no cell phone… no newspaper… no friends… no Internet… not even my inamorata. I once took a two month sabbatical from Facebook to finish an anthology submission.
I would consider that more of a cultural sabbatical though, rather than an exile.
Orson Welles once said “We’re born alone, we live alone, and we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
Writers use words to create the illusion that they are not alone… we write to tell a story, to reach out and connect… to show that we are more than the sum of ourselves… to not be alone.
Cultural exile… taking oneself away from all that is around us is anathema to a writer…
We need the world around us… our experiences in that world… to breathe life into our stories. Otherwise, they are only dead words on paper.
Unless there is a purpose to that exile… an exchange, for example… cultural exile is at cross purposes to why we write.
If I wanted to write Italian Renaissance mysteries, and I were a decent enough writer of mysteries, I could go to the library and read up on the Italian Renaissance. I might even end up with a halfway decent mystery. But, if I really want to do it right… I have to go to Italy! I have to immerse myself in an entire new culture… exchanging my American cultural mores for Italian customs, conventions, and practices.
I have to exile myself from one culture, in favor of another.
In the early 70’s Nancy Huston, author of Losing North: Essays on Cultural Exile did just such a thing. She abandoned English and her piano for French and the harpsichord. She exiled herself from one culture to gain knowledge and insight into another culture.
One more thing…
Orson also said that ‘… a writer must be isolated’… but, that isolation cannot be absolute. Our environment… the culture around us… often plays a large part in the telling of our stories.
And, after all… telling stories is our raison d’etre, is it not?
To what extent do you think male criminal sexual pathology differs from female and what do the differences show about gender?
The pathology is both as dissimilar and alike as it is in the non-criminal male and female. It should be noted however, that there is definitely more of a blurring between the “traditional” roles of aggressor (male) and passive receiver (female), and in some instances, a reversal. Feminism and women’s equality plays an important role in both demographics- the criminal and the non-criminal.
The male criminal is brash, impulsive, reckless, and prone to violence as a “solution” to any number of problems. Ill-considered and premature/unnecessary violence often will sabotage the male’s objectives.
The female criminal is more considerate, patient, calculating, and cold. With sufficient provocation, she is every bit as dangerous as the male. The female can be extremely ruthless and single-minded in the achievement of her objectives.
Understanding the parallels between the two social castes is of primary concern to the criminologist.
There is a greater tendency to physical violence in the male criminal, which is not to say that violence in the female is absent. In part this is due to that ancient, primal ‘hunter/gatherer/protector’ instinct in the male, hard-coded into his DNA. He will, when necessary… even if the “need” is only illusory… use violence to protect what he sees as his and to dominate in order to satisfy this instinct. Violence is power… it is about dominating and being in control… the ‘leader’.
Sexual sadism also plays a role.
Sexual sadism is predominant in males, usually on setting with puberty. There are many theories for the cause behind this. Freud had changing views on sadism and masochism throughout his professional life. In one view, he conceptualized the association of aggressiveness with sexuality in the child’s witnessing of a ‘primal scene’… his parents having intercourse… as an act of ill treatment or subjugation. The child’s lack of maturity could not conceive of a ‘pleasure principle’; ergo, it was interpreted as an act of sexual violence. Note that the female mind, with its vastly different biological imperative of ‘passivity/compliance/nurturer’, more often conceptualized this differently.
Another theory suggested that the subjugation by a female authority figure at an early age, later lead to sexual sadism. Sexual sadism, even in the smallest of degrees, affects many more males than studies would suggest. The taboo nature of the act inherently leads to under-reporting of it.
The male’s predisposition for violence, which may have already manifested into criminal behavior of a non-sexual nature, will often take on a sexual component with the onset of puberty. There is the need for power and control that the criminal act itself cannot completely satisfy, nor can it be found in the ‘release’ of normal sexual activity. The urge to dominate, humiliate, and subjugate must be satisfied.
It should also be noted that the male’s sexual sadism is most commonly, but not always, directed toward the female, and a male’s sexual identity… be it straight or gay… is not the sole determinant in the target of their sadism.
Male criminals are more violent, risk-taking, and without remorse… believing in a sense, that their behavior is part of the biological imperative of the ‘hunter/provider/protector’. They fail to comprehend the irony of their violence toward women as being contrary to that imperative. They have in fact, perverted that ancient imperative.
Society at one time, and to a certain extent still does, tended to see criminal behavior in women as “mad, not bad”… suggesting that women are not capable in the same sense as men, in whom it is already assumed and accepted, to have a predisposition to bad behavior.
The attribution of madness to women derives from the outdated construct that women who conform are pure and obedient, benefiting society and men, always being subservient to man. A woman who went against her natural biological traits of passivity, nurture, and compliance must therefore, be mentally ill. The male stereotype of the female refused to consider women’s growing independence and reliance on self.
While the emancipation of women during the 70’s undeniably increased economic opportunities for women, it also allowed women to become as crime-prone as men. These new opportunities enabled determined women to move into the world of major crime… the new female criminal, hypothesized by Adler. Exception is taken to Carlen’s argument that Adler’s new female criminal is cast as the biological female who is essentially masculine, and that the new female criminal is no more than the old, maladjusted masculine female of traditional criminology. Where women are more successful in their criminal endeavors, is due in large part to the feminine temperament… that of being more patient, nurturing, analytical, and compassionate than men; traits not typically found in the maladjusted masculine female.
The female criminal, refusing to accept the outdated modes of sexuality, forgoes the conventional rewards of domesticity, seeking instead excitement, wealth, luxury, and… power. She takes advantage of the same opportunities as her non-criminal female counterpart.
While men have always sought power, and always will, they do not always know what to do with it; which often leads to their downfall.
The sense of power and dominance a female achieves in criminal enterprises is even more intense than in men. If centuries of subservience to man has taught women anything, it has taught them about power… how to get it… how to use it… and how to keep it.
One thing that is true of both sexes is that there is frequently a profound need for sexual release in the aftermath of criminal acts. The ‘high’ of a successful bank robbery won’t last and there is a desire to prolong that sense of power… that sense of accomplishment. This is most often achieved through sexual release… it is here that both use sex as an exhibition of power.
There is an attainment, or at least the illusion, of power in sexual satisfaction.
Sex, as an expression of love is not absent in the criminal element; it is however, more compartmentalized.
Male criminal sexual pathology often uses sex as a weapon… as a punishment. Female criminal sexual pathology uses sex as a tool… an enticement… a means to an end.
Men, by their very male nature, seldom commit crimes as an act of penance… their “guilt engine” is not designed for such.
Women, on the other hand, will commit crimes as an act of penance.
We can’t always escape the guilt.
Tell us about pyjamas and how you came up with your sobriquet.
Haha! There is a funny little story behind that.
I suppose that now would be a good time to confess something to your readers…
I am a criminal… a thief… a taker of cozy, warm, flannel sleepwear that does not belong to me. If you invite me into your home, you may want to take precautions. I am told that there is no cure for sleepwear kleptomania. If anyone knows of a support group…?
Please… walk with me down memory lane…
Christina and I have been together for almost five years now… September 20th will mark our fifth anniversary together, and October 25th marks our first wedding anniversary.
Tina is a lawyer with the federal government, and she travels quite a bit on business. In those early years, it was hard being apart from Tina… I have some ‘history’, but that is a story for another day.
One evening while Tina was preparing for a trip, I “stole” the pajamas she had packed. I wore them the entire week she was gone… I felt closer to Tina, even though she was three thousand miles away. I felt safe.
And thus began my “criminal career”.
It was about three years ago, I believe… Tina was again back East on business and I had gone over to our friends Ryan and Thomas’s house for an evening of Trivial Pursuit and 70’s rock.
The hour grew late and we had all had maybe just one glass of wine too many, so I stayed over, rather than driving home… operating a motor vehicle is not a good idea when one has been drinking, and an even worse idea when your girlfriend works for the Justice Department. Ryan lent me a pair of his pajamas so that I would not have to run around the house in only a cami and panties.
Somehow… and here, I will have to plead the Fifth… Ryan’s pajamas made it home with me. At the time I fully intended on returning them, but it just never seemed to happen, and I sort of got in the habit of wearing them around the condo whenever Tina was away on business. The pajamas were, after all… very comfortable!
Though she denies it, I am convinced that my little honey “ratted me out” to Ryan. One Sunday the phone rang while the two of us were enjoying a lazy morning in bed, reading the papers. Tina answered and then handed the phone over to me…
“Hey, Pajama Thief! I believe you have something of mine!” Ryan’s contralto voice came through the receiver. Oh my god! I looked down at what I was wearing… Ryan’s blue pin-striped pajama bottoms… then over at Tina, who had suddenly become extremely engrossed in a news article. I stammered for a moment, trying to find my voice, when Ryan’s laughter filled my ear.
The name stuck and as I developed an online presence, I started using ‘Veronica The Pajama Thief’ on my email accounts and blogs… as my user name for all of those social networking sites… I even purchased the domain name.
When I first came to Facebook, I gained the reputation for mining the most esoteric information from Google with almost lightning speed, and friends began to refer to me as ‘Google Girl’… a nickname that just never really did anything for me.
‘Veronica The Pajama Thief’ on the other hand… has a nice ring, don’t you think?
Do you think pornography is an aesthetic that is corrupted by phallocentrism?
Short answer…Yes. Next question… haha!
Seriously, I’m not sure one can adequately answer that without first defining pornography… un-ringing a bell would be easier, unfortunately. Defining pornography is a bit like trying to describe what ‘wet’ feels like without using the word ‘wet’. Wikimedia defines pornography as such –
“Pornography is the portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual arousal and erotic satisfaction.” That single phrase is full of subjectivism – explicit…
sexual… satisfaction. Those are all open to individual interpretation… measured against a given society’s collective sense of values.
And, remember… the times, they have changed. Fifty years ago, a picture of myself… completely nude, but not engaged in an overt sexual act… would have been considered pornographic. Today, that same photograph is viewed almost as matter-of-factly as breathing. The definition of what is or is not pornography, contextualized in differing and ever-changing cultural and historical ‘realms’, is something that will always be open to debate.
Phallocentrism is a term used primarily by feminist theorists to denote the pervasive privileging of the masculine within Western culture. ‘Pervasive’ may be a bit of an understatement.
There is a divide among some feminists on the subject of pornography. Generally viewed as demeaning to women… it eroticizes the domination, humiliation, and coercion of women…pornography has, at the very least, aided in the corruption of the phallocentric ideal, and that is not a ‘bad thing’, from a feminist point of view.
This corruption is in part due to the growth of female dominant pornography and a subtle shift away from the masculine depiction of lesbian sex… bleached and siliconized heterosexual women with six-inch heels and three-quarter inch nails, who are willing to fellate or copulate either male or female, as long as they get paid… to more realistic portrayals. As evolving socio-economic mores work to diminish the privileging of the masculine, a balance will come to this once forbidden aspect of our cultures.
I don’t think one could argue that pornography hasn’t been corrupted by phallocentrism. The human species consists of two sexes… female and male. Pornography has been a part of the human experience for centuries, and there has always been one constant… the male dominant. The sublimation of the feminine expressive by the pejorative masculine has perverted the true nature of pornography… to entertain… and is ample evidence of phallocentrism’s corruption. The pervasive masculine attempts to provide an historical commentary of this ‘forbidden’ part of Western culture, mirroring the male dominant evident in virtually all aspects of society, when in fact, pornography was never meant as such… its purpose was to entertain… nothing more.
One does wonder at times if equality is truly the feminists’ agenda… or perhaps, a shift in ‘isms’… phallocentrism to Mons centrism? One could make the argument that there is ample feminine symbolism. Is a female ‘chalice’ any less powerful than a male phallus… given the right mindset?
Who are your literary influences?
There is a misconception among many that lesbians are staunch, even rabid feminists. I hope your readers aren’t disappointed at the dearth of feminist writers here. I have read a few… Friedan, Dworkin, Smith, Steinem… bored me to tears! Do we like the sound of our own voice a bit much? Austen, French, Sexton… these women had something to say that was worth reading. Of all the feminist writers… my favorite –
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Though physically weakened through illness, she was nonetheless a strong woman, with strong moral convictions and a keen sense of justice. These are traits my own mother had and passed on to me. I admire strong women, and on an intellectual level, I am deeply attracted to women such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning… we do have similar beliefs.
Much of her work carries a religious theme. She believed that “Christ’s religion is essentially poetry—poetry glorified.”, and she explored the religious aspect in many of her poems, most notably, in her sonnets.
Her lifelong physical sufferings imbued in Elizabeth a deep empathy for the plight of others, and she was passionately outspoken on issues of social injustice… slavery, child labor, and oppression of women. In her writing, Elizabeth expresses empathy and profound intellectual thought on these issues.
While not deeply religious, ours was a spiritual home, although as a child; I sometimes struggled with the concept of spirituality. As a young girl, I found a ‘connect’ in Elizabeth’s writings, which helped me better understand myself and the kind of person I wanted to be… the kind of person I strive to be today.
Both as a literary figure and proponent of basic human rights, Elizabeth Barrett Browning has influenced my life and the way I look at the world.
William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen – they taught me much about the human condition.
Alistair MacLean – his stories of daring adventure and intrigue sparked my imagination, taking me to countries across the globe.
Kathy Reichs – the characters are engaging, highly intelligent and analytical. Her taut, disciplined protagonist, Temperance Brennan, showed me that without humanity, we are reduced to animals.
Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, and Cara Black – three different takes on the strong female crime fighter, each with an over-riding sense of justice. These women showed me that life isn’t fair, and doing nothing is a choice… not a requirement of life.
Ken Follett – a master storyteller, his Pillars of the Earth re-ignited a childhood love of history.
Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, John Sandford, John Grisham, Scott Turow, Robert B Parker, Patricia Cornwell, Ken Follett, Dean Koontz, and James Patterson – taught me that good and evil aren’t always absolutes.
Stephen King once jokingly made a reference to looking in the backseat of your car before getting in… that hit a little too close to home for me. King made me re-examine some of my own beliefs about the ‘kingdom of man’.
Ann Rule – I gained insight into the monsters who called themselves human, and why it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to always carry just a little bit of fear with us.
Carolyn Keene – I have a few friends who are going to tease me mercilessly over this… I can’t help it… I LOVE Nancy Drew! Haha!
Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Carole A Parker, and Paul D Brazill – these four writers have been the biggest influence on my writing. As far back as I can remember, I have been attracted to and captivated by that sub-genre known as noir crime fiction.
My best friend Talia and I would read for hours… such contraband as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. We would dream one day of writing stories like those we read. However, the realities of school and my constant struggle with English and all those dreaded writing assignments rather chilled that ambition.
Until that is… I met Carole A Parker. Carole’s writing has been a huge inspiration to me. I doubt I ever would have penned my first crime fiction story, had it not been for Carole. She also introduced me to Chandler and Hammett. Through Carole, I met – online – Paul D Brazill and a host of other noir fiction writers and ‘e-zine’ websites. In fact, it was on Pulp Metal Magazine, that I was introduced to your writing, Richard… some truly dark, powerful stories. I have read stories that left my mind before I even finished them, and I have read stories which will stay with me always… your equine-fantasy series Pony Trip are such stories.
There are probably other writers who have had some influence on me… I have after all, been reading since the age of three. And while I have read many more authors than these few here, these are the ones who most come to mind as having influenced not only my writing, but my ‘world view’.
Plutarch said this – “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
A good story does more than just fill the mind with words… it lights the fires of our imagination.
Is there a particular incident that has changed your life and influenced your writing?
I could take the easy way out here and tell you about the summer before my seventeenth birthday. That was the summer I met Amanda. That was the summer of my ‘awakening’. That was the summer of my ‘epiphany’. That was the summer that my mother disowned me and kicked me out of the house when she found out I was a lesbian. Getting caught naked in Mama’s bed… soixante-neuf with Amanda… was my ‘outing’.
Yes, that was certainly life-changing and has no doubt had some influence on my writing, but… there is something else.
The knowledge that I was… that I am… capable of something that goes against everything I believe in… against my very nature… that knowledge and the incident that brought it about… is life-changing. It is knowledge that those of us who possess… wish we did not.
It was Fall Term of my junior year… a Friday… Psych class in the morning and then ditching two afternoon classes to go to Charlotte’s parents’ beach house for the weekend. Charlotte and I had been seeing each other only a short time and there was still a lingering ache from my heartbreak over Tara, but… I needed to move on. This was going to be a good weekend for the both of us. Little did I know… my worst nightmare was about to begin.
Coming out of Starbuck’s with my customary Grande Americano and poppy seed scone, I failed to realize the significance of the unlocked driver’s door until it was too late. As I set my coffee in the cup-holder and reached to put the key in the ignition, I felt a cold hard object suddenly press against my neck. The voice from the back seat spoke… four words that paralyzed me and turned my insides to water… “Scream and you die!”
This is the part, where if this were a live interview… I would ask if we could take a break.
Some time later, we arrived at an abandoned farmhouse, and I came face to face with my abductors. In a state of shock, I failed to comprehend two things… this was not an ordinary kidnapping… and, in all likelihood, I was not going to survive. Had I understood that, I would have risked a bullet in the back and ran for my life. But… I did not.
The sun caught in my eyes briefly as the two led me down the basement stairs… it would be six months before I again saw the sun.
Even now, it is difficult to count all that I lost… the last of my innocence… my virginity… the ability to have children… all of that probably seems a bit trivial to some. After all, I did walk out of that basement… eventually.
I lost something else though… after I climbed up out of that cold, dank, basement. I lost my faith and trust in humanity… for a long time. How many times I had to endure the looks of condemnation in the eyes of those who were supposed to be helping me, as if all of it were my fault… as if I should have done more to try and get away. And sometimes, those thoughts were spoken out loud. What would I say to those people today? I would tell them this…
“Until you have ‘danced’ with the devil, do not try to tell me what I should have done… do not!”
I’m sorry… can we take a break?
There is, obviously, more to this story… much more. One day, the rest will be told. I have already written a little of that ordeal and its aftermath, in some of my short stories… Penance, Nyquil Dreams, and Hello Darkness, My Old Friend. You can see its influence in some of my other writings as well. Soul Taker, currently only several journal pages of ideas and a rough storyline, will also draw from that time.
Some of my stories are darker than they would have been otherwise. I can live with that. It was after all, never my intention to write children’s stories. I have a six hundred page manuscript of a fantasy/otherworld story… this was heavily influenced by the events that transpired during those six months of captivity.
The protagonists in almost every one of my stories are strong, independent, often risk-taking, females… extremely goal-oriented and self-sufficient. My therapist says this is a form of self-affirmation for me. And, while not all of them are strictly law-abiding, they do have a strong moral code and a sense of justice.
For the most part, that ordeal is behind me now. I am a stronger person for it. I have learned to trust again… to have faith. I have learned to see beyond my own suffering. And, of all that I did lose… there is one thing that I did not… I did not lose my soul… I did not lose the capacity to love… and to be loved.
It has been almost six years since that fateful September day, and every time I step into a car, I look in the backseat first.
I’m still afraid of drowning… but, it hasn’t stopped me from swimming.
Tell us about your current writing projects.
I have several ‘irons in the fire’, at the moment. I have a 10,000 word manuscript under consideration for an anthology due out next February… three ‘works in progress’… and another story almost finished. I also write for two flash fiction sites.
I am a regular contributor to the Flash Fiction Friday community writing project. This is a weekly flash challenge, where the stories range in length from a hundred to 2,500 words, in an open genre. I also write for Lily’s Friday Prediction over at Lily Child’s Feardom. This is also a weekly flash challenge, where your dark little souls have only a hundred words to come up with a tasty little bit of horror/urban fantasy.
In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I would like writing flash. I tend to use a lot of words. But the challenge of telling a story with such a ‘constraint’ as word counts was too irresistible to pass up. My very first flash story was for Patti Abbott’s Scarry Night Flash Challenge back in February… 800 word limit. My story came in at 807 words… and I sweated blood getting that thing down from almost 1,000 words! But, you know what? I LOVED it! I have been hooked ever since. Writing flash is extremely rewarding and brings some much-needed discipline to my writing.
After a marathon weekend of watching “Hoarders” with a friend, I got an idea for a story about obsession. Something a little dark… something to make one with a delicate constitution run to the bathroom with hand over mouth… something near and dear to my heart.
OBSESSION is the tale of a young woman who trades one obsession for another… with dire consequences. I am hoping to submit this to one of the online ‘zines’, such as Pulp Metal Magazine, Gemini, or Dark Valentine. I would really like to go with Dark Valentine, but they are currently on hiatus until October… which probably explains why I haven’t finished the story.
Some months back, I received an email from a friend and fellow writer. In my eagerness for news I had been waiting for, I misinterpreted his email and began writing a story for an ‘invitational’ I had thought I had been accepted for. By the time I realized my mistake, I had 2,500 words written. It seemed a shame to just let them gather dust, so…
Tentatively titled LOST, this is the story of a mother’s vengeance. When a young, idealistic assistant district attorney loses her daughter to the man she is trying to put away, she turns away from the law and everything she believes in to bring the monster to justice.
Back in September of last year, I wrote REVENGE WILL WAIT FOR ANOTHER DAY. This story came as a result of some idle musings to a friend on Facebook one night about a lover’s betrayal. The story was never submitted for publication… chalk that up to ‘first story jitters’… and languished on a shelf.
And then, a couple of months ago, a friend told me about an anthology call for lesbian femme fatale stories with an erotic element. I pulled REVENGE off the shelf and started re-writing it, adding a couple of decidedly erotic encounters… that’s a polite term for sex scenes.
However, before I had a chance to submit it, the editor announced that they were looking for stories with more of a focus on a mystery; in other words… a lesbian femme fatale mystery with elements of erotica.
Well, there wasn’t too much mystery about REVENGE… a fairly straightforward story of betrayal and revenge. No ‘whodunit’ there. So, I put REVENGE back up on the shelf and started over from scratch, which brings us to…
THIS WILL ALL END IN TEARS. Former cat burglar, NYPD detective Aimee Belanger leaves the Big Apple when her lesbian lover and partner in crime, leaves her for another woman. Now working on the West Coast, a string of high-profile burglaries and the appearance of her former lover threaten to shatter Aimee’s new life.
I attended a lecture recently on justice denied and our flawed judicial system, where the suspects often have more rights than their victims. A friend and I talked about ways the ‘scales of justice’ might be balanced. This is what my ‘dark, little mind’ came up with…
SOUL TAKER is the story of a woman with a unique ‘gift’ and her single-minded determination that justice delayed will not be justice denied.
THE ROBE, THE ROSE, AND THE ROAD BACK (tentatively titled) is the story of a young woman, kidnapped in the waning days of the summer of 2005, her six months of captivity at the hands of a sadistic ex-boyfriend – during which time she was subjected to unspeakable brutalities – and the road back. This is my story.
I am also ‘toying’ with a zombie apocalypse story… glimpses of which can be seen in some of my submissions to Lily’s Friday Prediction. Those little ‘tidbits’ are also posted on my blogs.
That is about all I am working on presently… that I am ready to share, at any rate… haha!
I have cut back a little on my writing so that I can catch up with some much needed reading. I believe it was Stephen King who said…
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
Does your Portuguese and Russian heritage ever make you feel alienated from the USA?
At times, yes…. I feel a disconnect… a sense of not belonging. Almost as if I belong somewhere else… that a shift in the collective ideals of my adopted country are at odds with the person I am now. My parents’ sense of values and their heritage have always been moral guideposts for me, leading me through this journey; striving, as were their wishes, to be more than the sum of who they were.
It’s not a question of moral superiority… my heritage. I would be the last one to judge others or to place myself above another. We are of the same Creator, and as we are all equal in his eyes, so should we be in one another’s.
I love America. I have lived here almost my entire life… it is my home. Growing up for me here in the United States was a unique experience. We were a ‘three culture’ family, living in the land of the free and home of the brave… America. Sometimes, I can still hear Mama’s voice… the way she would say that word… A-mareeka… a slight ‘roll’ to the ‘r’.
While my parents’ heritage was not locked away in a closet, we were a predominantly ‘American’ family. The Russian and Portuguese ‘sense’ was almost an undertone at times. This was something that was very important to Mama. She wanted me to ‘fit in’ with my peers for one thing; all of whom, with the exception of my best friend Talia, were several generations American.
There was another thing… something Mama never spoke of, but I sensed as I grew older. Mama could not return to her homeland, and I think she feared that if I was exposed too much to Russian culture, I would one day want to live there.
Mama would not allow any language other than English in our home, and would scold Papa whenever she caught him teaching me phrases in Portuguese. I remember one phrase in particular… ‘minha princesa pequena’… ‘my little princess’. I have almost-forgotten memories of Mama singing to me when I was a baby… Russian lullabies. Perhaps that is part of why I have such strong character and courage… have you read the English translation of some of those lullabies? There is some scary stuff there!
Ironically, as much as Mama tried otherwise, my parents ended up teaching me much about Russian and Portuguese traditions and cultures. In downplaying my heritage, they only succeeded in giving emphasis to it.
My parents had both come to America as young adults and assimilated into the American culture, quickly learning the ways of American democratic capitalism, and becoming quite successful. However, they never forgot where they came from and who they were. Their people were a proud peoples, to whom honor was not a small thing, and integrity and strength of character were not ‘choices’… something to have or not to have, but an obligation of every ‘citizen of man’. Mama and Papa imbued in me a sense of values that have stood well with me my entire life… honor, respect, courage, compassion, strength, an abiding love of life, empathy, integrity, and a desire to do good.
Yes, I love America… it is my home. Only…
I now see the emperor without his clothes…
I see dishonor… I see a lack of respect… for self and others… I see apathy… a settling for less than what one could be… should be. I see a decline in a sense of values. If America was the experiment to disprove the theory of democratic capitalism, it has succeeded quite well.
I believe each one of us has an ethical and moral responsibility to work toward and contribute to the betterment of society as a whole, regardless of where we live. Classes and prejudices have no place in an enlightened society. Political and socio-economic structures are a construct of man. Man has an obligation to tend them well and ensure equality for all.
Okay, that sounded just a bit too political, and I would sooner talk about my sex life than politics… next question! Haha!
Do you think totalitarianism is the death of existentialism and do you think sexual conditioning is more of an ally to politics than philosophy?
Oh… a two part question on two subjects I was barely on speaking terms with in school… philosophy and politics. I could sure use my friend Sandra’s crib notes… haha!
Is totalitarianism the death of existentialism?
I believe that the two are mutually exclusive. Neither can exist, to its fullest potential, in the presence of the other.
Put simply, existentialism is the ideology of self, the individual.
In a totalitarian society, the state’s ideology – everything within the state… nothing outside the state… nothing against the state – mandates that virtually all aspects of the social life, including but not limited to, economy, education, art, science, private life and the morals of its citizens are controlled by the state. It is an ideology that permeates deep in the societal structure, as the totalitarian government seeks to completely control the thoughts and actions of its citizenry. There is no individual.
In such an environment, where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life, the ideology of self cannot exist… it isn’t allowed to.
Whether one accepts a central proposition of existentialism that existence precedes essence – the actual life of the individual constituting his or her ‘essence’, instead of there being a predetermined essence that defines what it is to be human… ‘existence’ – neither concept could be self-actualized in a totalitarian state. The state, in a manner of speaking, determines an individual’s essence… their existence is only such as that allowed within the confines of the state’s ideology. This of course, is a perversion of the existentialist philosophy.
Existentialism… the human being – through their own consciousness – creates their own values and determines a meaning to their life. Existentialism is about self-empowerment. Totalitarianism… the state – through its near-absolute control – creates a ‘value-set’ for its citizens and determines the meaning to their lives. Totalitarianism is about exerting and having power of others.
Forgive me if I generalize a bit here…
It is perhaps a rather jaded and cynical view for one so young, but… I do feel that sexual conditioning is more of an ally to politics than philosophy.
Humans are sexual creatures. Our lives to an extent, are guided by sexual conditioning… it is pervasive in our society. To a great many, philosophy is a concept too difficult to grasp, and politicians know that. Politicians love to appeal to our basest needs and fears, and understanding why we are conditioned the way we are, allows them to tap in to those base instincts. Our sexual conditioning makes us easier to manipulate.
By and large, politicians would prefer to leave the philosophical debates… at least, ones of any depth… to the philosophers. For fun some time, ask a politician his thoughts on totalitarianism or existentialism. He or she won’t admit it, but… they just might have a tiny little streak of totalitarianism in them.
After all, politics is about power and control, right?
How do you respond to recent criticism that your lesbianism privileges a feminist viewpoint in your stories and casts males in an unbalanced light, often relegating them to a criminal role?
My first response would be ‘thank you’! If you are criticizing my stories; that means you are reading them and a balance is maintained. Little purpose is served to our writing if it is not read… so… thank you!
I won’t deny that most of my stories have a strong feminine presence… I make no apologies for that. I write from my heart… I don’t let ‘politics’ come into play. If my stories have a feminist leaning or are seen as female dominant… then that is the way they were meant to be. We don’t always get to write what we want to… sometimes, we write what we have to. Remember the fourth ‘E’?
As for my casting males in an unbalanced light… perhaps it seems so because fewer of my stories involve males as primary characters, so they tend to ‘stand out’. I am assuming the comment was directed more at the fact that the males in my stories are almost without exception… ‘bad’.
One Man’s Burden was a twist on the Ripper. I think no one will dispute that Jack the Ripper was a male. Sure, I could have taken the twist further and made the ‘Ripper’ in my story a female, but that isn’t what came to me.
This Is How You Remind Me is a story of domestic violence and when enough is enough. Did I have to make the ‘bad’ person a man? No, I didn’t have to…if I didn’t care about truth… about being true.
This is the thing though… I wrote both of those stories as they came to me. Had I stopped and said to myself… ‘Maybe I shouldn’t make the man the ‘bad guy’… well, that would have been a form of self-censorship, don’t you think? If I ‘force’ something just to please a demographic, then I am not being true to my writing.
If I change how I write something for fear that someone will see it as “my lesbianism privileging the feminine”, then I am writing to please someone else… to conform to their ‘ideals’. And, I won’t do that.
I believe it was Susan Isaacs who said this…
“Keep in mind that the person to write for is you. Tell the story that you most desperately want to read.”
Thank you Veronica for giving a penetrating and great interview.
Bio: Veronica Marie is a 25 year old teacher’s assistant/student/barista/accountant, currently residing in Silverdale, WA. Veronica and her partner also maintain a residence in Portland, OR. Born in Lisboa, Portugal to parents of Portuguese/Russian descent, and raised in the Midwest, she now calls the Pacific Northwest home. Veronica and her partner of almost five years, Christina Anne Shaw-Lewis, were married last October, and “are still very much on honeymoon!” Veronica’s long fascination with noir fiction has recently prompted her to try her own hand at writing fiction.
Links: Veronica blogs at veronicathepajamathief.blogspot.com and veronicathepajamathief.wordpress.com and can also be found on www.facebook.com/veronicathepajamathief.