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Author Interview: Sezin Koehler

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Crime Rave is a bombastic look into the world that Sezín Koehler created in American Monsters. A kind of fantasy world where Marilyn Monroe is a Goddess and horror, crime and action clash in a combustible mix of farcical fiction which hits hard and resonates. The GR1ND sat down with author Sezín Koehler for a chat about her work.

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Crime Rave defies typical genres and conventions. What are your influences?

I’m a half American, half Sri Lankan Third Culture Kid — someone who was raised outside my parents’ home countries — and a global nomad who has lived in 13 countries and 18 cities around the world. In many ways the physical world I’ve inhabited defies typical genres and conventions and feel like it was somehow “natural” that my writing follows suit.

I’d say my base genre is horror, and I build upwards from there, always inspired by the works of Stephen King, JK Rowling, Louise Erdrich, Amy Tan, Alice Walker, Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, and Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” series, just to name a few.

Specifically for “Crime Rave” I read a whole lot of Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, Dashiell Hammett, and other hardboiled crime and thrillers, as well as watched every crime show and movie I could get my hands on, from old to new. I wanted the tone of “Crime Rave” to be reminiscent of crime and film noir, but with my own twist, and it took a lot of reading and listening to get that classic crime voice to become a part of me before I could integrate it into my story in a fresh way.

How did you start writing?

I started reading and writing at a very early age and have first notebooks of poems and short stories going back to when I was 4 or 5. I grew up in a rather turbulent household, so writing for me has always been my greatest escape and most effective form of therapy. Writing has also been the only consistent thing for me over the years and now it’s as vital as breathing. I literally fall ill when I’m not working on one writing project or another. As breaks from long-form novel writing I also write essays regularly for Huffington Post, and this year one of my goals is to get more short fiction out into the world in whatever shape that may take.

Horror, crime, action- how do you formulate your stories and what goes on in them?

I draw inspiration from everything around me (my husband jokes that even a breeze will inspire some new crazy idea), and I’m an avid consumer of books and visual media. Sometimes my dreams even offer me plot devices or movement in my stories. As a feminist and horror fan, I love the idea of playing with tropes from all genres and spinning them on their heads whenever possible. And a big part of my process is the social commentary that lives just underneath the horror, crime, and action. All the events are extremely intentional, and if you know a little bit about horror and feminist theory you’ll have an extra appreciation of my stories.

Describe your writing process from concept to finished process?

One of my friends calls me a Method Writer. My books require thousands of hours of research through reading, watching, until I’m finally “in character” for the story. Next comes writing and rewriting and more rewriting until it all feels right. It’s an exhaustive and often exhausting process. I also spend a lot of time NOT writing or working on a novel, and often that time away will spark major character and plot breakthroughs.

Everything starts with reading, then writing a shitty first draft. I let that draft sit for a few months without even looking at it, and any ideas or additions I make go into a notebook for later reference. More reading and watching while I let that first draft cool. Next comes rewriting the mess into a decent second draft that then goes to my trusted first readers. More reading, more watching. Then a third draft, which goes to beta readers. If I’m lucky the fourth draft is the final, and it goes to a last group of readers, and then I release the book baby out into the world, hoping for the best.

Your novel seems almost like a graphic novel. Was that your intent?

You’re not the first one to mention this aspect of the book! I’m an extremely visual person so I think that has more to do with it than me actively trying to write something that seems like a graphic novel. I have to see things in my head clearly before I can write them, and by the time I’m finished visualizing a scene it is so clear to me it might as well be drawn or in live action on a screen. If only I knew how to properly draw, I’d totally be a graphic novel creator instead of a novelist. And hey, if someone would be interested in working with me to make the book into a graphic novel I would say yes in less than a heartbeat.

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American Monsters to Crime Rave- what is next for you?

I’m currently working on my third novel, a zombie faerie tale set in my old home of Prague, Czech Republic. I took thousands of photos of the city before I moved so it’s been fun reviewing my old home and getting my feet metaphorically back on the ground there. In the works as well is my fourth novel, featuring recurring “Crime Rave” characters in the present day living on Pine Ridge Reservation; my fifth will be a grindhouse horror novel taking place in a gated community in Southeast Florida; and I’m toying with the idea of potentially an entire novel about Marilyn Monroe. In the meantime I’m planning to release collections of short stories as well as essays in the next couple years, too.

Are the fantasy elements in the books a big part of it for you? Explain.

In a way, yes. I grew up with a complicated racial and cultural experience which has left me with the overwhelming feeling of perpetual otherness even when I’m in places of my origins, the US and Sri Lanka. I’ve been drawn to monsters since I could first read because they also seem to occupy that marginal interstitial space outside of mainstream culture, and this has definitely translated into my books through my hybrid characters and also how in my fictional world trauma results in actual superpowers. That said, it’s only been recently that I’ve been realizing how much fantasy shapes my work. When I think of my characters, even the most magical ones, they are so real to me I forget that people like them don’t exist in any known universe, real or imaginary. Being mixed race I never really felt that I had the right to tell certain kinds of stories — mainly because people in my life would actively inform me I had no right to those stories, and for whatever reason I believed them; being mixed can be a tough negotiation — and because my own personal experience was so far from any norm I compensate by making most of my characters ethnic, cultural, and even alien hybrids.

You have famous celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and goddesses that rule over humans. Where do these juxtapositions come from?

Many would argue that Marilyn Monroe is a modern goddess, and one who has maintained that special allure and magic over even recent generations because of her mysterious demise and the fact that she died so young, still with that iconic face. Beyond, having lived in places like Thailand and India where pantheons of gods and goddesses are the majority religious beliefs has made me rather pantheistic myself. I’m also obsessed with Greco-Roman and Norse beliefs, and it was really fun to create my very own pantheon from “American Monsters” to “Crime Rave”, and now beyond both further outward into upcoming novels.

Where is the book available and what are your social media and website links?

“Crime Rave” is available anywhere you buy books online, from Amazon to Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc, ( http://amzn.com/1508667853,

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/crime-rave-sezin-koehler/1122636710?ean=9781312788138, https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/575509) and you can snag a signed copy on the “Crime Rave” website, or grab a copy of the ebook on a pay-what-you-want basis on the website as well (http://crimerave.org/). People have also been going to their local independent bookstore and ordering paperbacks there, which is pretty much my favorite story about how people are getting their hands on “Crime Rave”.

You can find out more about me and read more writings on my website Zuzu’s Petals (http://www.sezin.org), follow me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/SezinKoehler) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/SezinKoehler), as well as my cabinet of curiosities on Tumblr (http://www.hybridmonster.org), and Instagram (http://instagram.com/zuzukoehler) where I often post pics of my strange little multi-media art pieces. Being a bookworm, my favorite social media site is Goodreads and I actually track all the books I read for novel research on there (https://www.goodreads.com/Sezin), as well as tracking all the visual media research I do for my books on IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/user/ur48165187/). I’m nothing if not thorough!

Seth Ferranti is a writer, producer, actor and comic creator. He's created and writes Supreme Team, American Grind and Prison Stories. All forthcoming. He also writes for VICE, The Fix, SLAM, Huffington Post and Don Diva and has 8 true crime books on crack era gangsters out on Gorilla Convict.

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