Leza Cantoral is a Mexican-American fiction writer, performer and blogger. Her first short-story collection, Cartoons In The Suicide Forest, was published in 2016.
What is your earliest reading memory?
My father reading me Alice in Wonderland when I was 7 is what stands out the most to me. He read to me when I was younger and I remember sitting in his lap, engrossed. Also, my mother reading to me in French when I was a baby. There was this picture book I loved called Ma Poupette about a little girl and her doll. They go to the beach and have ice cream. It was pretty great. The first time I was really moved by a book I read on my own was when I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I remember being really sad when it was over. I think I was about 10 years old. That was also the book that put the idea in my head that writing could be a legitimate career and that women writers were badasses. It planted that little seed.
Has writing been a conscious choice or a natural thing for you?
I have been writing poetry since I was about 13. It began as a coping mechanism for the onset of my depression and to deal with cultural alienation after moving from my homeland of Mexico to the Chicago suburbs. It was very desolate; atmospherically, culturally, and socially.
I did not think of writing as a career till I was in my mid 20’s and I did not get serious till I was around 30. Now it is very conscious. I have different projects for different markets. I even have a YA series I wanna do, but I need to get better at storytelling before I tackle that. It is both natural and conscious.
Do you have any special habits or rituals when you write?
Theme music for a particular story that I listen to on repeat. Usually it’s pop music. Top artists I have used as soundtracks are Miley Cyrus, Lana Del Rey, and The Weeknd. Sometimes certain movies too. Recent favorites have been Party Monster, starring Macaulay Culkin about the ‘king of the club kids’ Michael Alig, Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola, and Spring Breakers by Harmony Korine. I like trippy movies with fucked up themes cause that’s pretty much what I write.
In high school, I wanted to be a director, and I made some films with my friends, but then I found out it is super hard, so I ended up writing stories. I cannot deal with all the people on a movie set. It is hard enough getting all the voices in my head to shut up and get something done.
Besides that, I just drink a lot of Red Bull, water, green & peppermint tea. I usually can only write late at night. I rarely write before 10pm. I try to write every night but if I am too exhausted mentally, then I don’t beat myself up about it. It is a good goal to write every day but I know I am imperfect and it is more important for me to love myself and keep myself sane and stable than to be some kinda juggernaut and end up burning myself out or having a manic or depressive episode. It is not worth it. My sanity comes first.
Do you choose your stories or do the stories choose you?
Both, I guess. I have certain themes I am obsessed with and they keep showing up. There are characters and stories that find me. I try to ignore them and they will make my life hell till I start working on their stories. It is a sort of possession. But once I start to outline, then I am in control. Then I have to see what is going to work according with story mechanics and how can I make this more interesting for an audience that is not inside my head, seeing the things I am seeing. I know that just because I find something interesting that will not necessarily make it interesting or compelling to anyone else. Like when I wrote ‘Dope.’
I wanted to use a dream I had years ago. It is a dream that has haunted me and still haunts me. The dream is that I am at a party in Brentwood. My grandparents had a house there that I would visit as a kid. So, I have lots of dreams there. In the dream, it is the morning after a party. I go out on the deck and see a white unicorn way off in the distance. I am so amazed. I run inside to look for my camera. I finally find it and go back out. But of course, everything has changed and now I have to make my way through a crowded marketplace. I finally arrive at the center, where all the people are. It is a carnival. It is a crime scene. It is an art show. And everyone is looking at the decapitated head of the unicorn, its bright blood dripping upon a white pedestal. I am so heartbroken and horrified, not just by the death of the unicorn I only just discovered, but how people are looking at it with such detachment.
That dream horrifies me. And I still puzzle over it. Anyway, I meant to write that story, but when I did, it just was not that interesting. It wasn’t scary. It wasn’t really a story. So, I begin ‘Dope’ at the Brentwood party but then I have my character get abducted by aliens instead of searching for the unicorn.
What national books/authors do you enjoy re-reading and why?
I am more into British than American writers. I recently got into Brett Easton Ellis. He’s American and still alive. He has a cool flow and I like his irreal realism. I like his dialogue and how jaded he is. Greta imagery, beatnick flow, punchy dialogue.
What foreign books/authors do you enjoy re-reading and why?
Nabokov’s Lolita, because he is a sorcerer of synesthesia. Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil, because his stuff is haunting and fucked up and also French is the ultimate lyrical language.
What is so important about fiction/poetry?
Fiction and poetry connect humans. Stories are how we make sense of all this. They are our narratives and when it comes down to it, all we have is our narratives. Existence would be a void without stories.
Flaubert says he was physically sick when he wrote Emma Bovary’s death. Are you empathetic with your characters?
Of course. Though I find that I am not always empathetic to the characters that I expected. Like when I wrote Planet Mermaid I found myself relating to the Sea Witch more than to my protagonist.
Can you cry writing your own poem?
All the time.
Who is your ideal reader?
Hipsters & emo tweens.
Should writers be embraced by society or should they be exiled?
Embraced. Writers are the Shamans of the collective unconscious. Writers are the prophets and the seers. They see with their inner eye beyond the veil of physical reality.
Is there a God or are there gods for writers?
I have drawn on the strength of various archetypes at different times in my life. Baron Samedi, Yemaya, Ganesha, Marilyn Monroe, Lana Del Rey, Jacke O. The muses and gods are many. You just have to call them and they will come. Just be sure you are ready to offer what they ask.
What makes a writer a writer?
The act of writing. A professional writer works to improve their craft.
Tell us about your fiction/poetry.
I have a short story collection out there called Cartoons in the Suicide Forest, published by Bizarro Pulp Press (it is on Amazon. People should get it and take a selfie with it and make sure to tag me and I will heart react for sure). It has stories written over the past 6 years of my life. There is flash fiction in there. There are some horror stories. Many have twisted fairy tale themes with surreal vibes. I have a really sadistic and fucked up sense of humor, so none of my characters have a good time. Basically, my stories are about horrible stuff happening to people. The only winner is nature herself.
I am currently working on two novellas and one poetry collection. One novella (or novel if it ends up longer but I don’t wanna put myself under pressure) is called ‘The Ice Cream Girl Gospels.’ It is a trippy adventure. It’s like Mean Girls in Candyland. The other is called ‘Dear Diary, I Think I’m Haunted.’ That is a metanarrative where I am being haunted by the ghost of my fiancé’s dead mother. It is inspired by a séance I went to with my friend and beautiful poet, Lisa Marie Basile, at this badass Magick store in Brooklyn called Catland books. The medium really tripped me out. She told me some crazy stuff and got the wheels rolling. She really deserves the credit for planting the seeds of this thing. And the poetry collection is called ‘Trash Panda.’ It is basically a bunch of very emo poetry. I already wrote one about Justin Bieber called ‘selena was 2 good 4 u’ which I wrote because my poet friend B. Diehl was joking that he was gonna write a poetry book called ‘Justin’ so I said I was gonna write a poetry book called ‘selena was 2 good 4 u.’
What is the purpose of your writing?
Self-therapy, seeking understanding of myself and others, concretizing the intangible, sharing journeys, pain, and inspiration with anyone who will open their hearts and minds to me. Not feeling alone in my madness. Connecting. Entertaining. Catharsis.
How do you really feel about recognition and fame? Are you a satisfied mind or always craving for more?
I want as many people as possible to know about me and enjoy my stories and words. I try not to think about it though. I focus on whatever I am writing and making it as good as I can. It is all about the work and the process. That is the beauty of writing, is writing through the mental blocks and the darkness and the self-doubt and illusions of grandeur or failure.