[Interview] Women/Nonbinary Individuals in Horror [Alanna McFall]

We sat down virtually with Alanna, the author of The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus, to discuss her favorite monsters to write about, what she’s watched or read lately, and her least favorite horror movie, just in time for Halloween!

Monster Thoughts: Your latest novel-length release, The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus, has to do with a character — who’s been dead for two years — who is traveling to her brother’s wedding. How did you come up with such an interesting concept and what were the themes, if any, of the novel?

Alanna McFall: So the most concrete inspiration for my novel was a random prompt generator. I was looking for some ideas to get me doing writing exercises, it popped out the ideas of ghosts and road trips, and the rest is history.

But I think what inspired me to write about the end goal of that road trip was where I was in my life at the time. I am from Minnesota, where my parents and younger brother still live, but I went to school in Massachusetts, lived in New York while I was first writing Triple-C, and live in the Bay Area now. I have loved getting to live so many different places, but the trade-off is that you are always leaving something behind. I was feeling a bit homesick and thinking about my family’s life going on half a country away, and started thinking about what if there was more than distance separating us? What if someone was separated from their loved ones by both distance and death? How far would they literally go to be there at an important moment? Would someone walk across a country to get to a wedding?

The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus by Alanna McFall

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About The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus:

Chelsea is determined to make it to her brother’s wedding. And she’s not going to let the fact that she’s been dead for two years stop her.

Joining with her mime friend from a New York City park and her ghostly mentor with forty years of afterlife under her belt, the three women set out on foot for San Francisco. Along the way, they are faced with joy, sorrow, and the haunting surprises of the open road. This humorous and lightly macabre journey explores relationships, personal burdens, and what it means to keep moving, even when your heartbeat has stopped.

There is something so symbolically rich about women becoming monstrous in horror.

MT: Those are great questions to spark a novel. That said, what are your favorite monsters, ghosts, etc. to write about? Why those?

Alanna: I do have a specific soft spot for ghosts, because of all of the different ideas they let you tap into. A ghost is a deceased person: what is their relationship with their past like? A ghost is intangible: how do they interact or not interact with the physical world? A ghost haunts people and places: what are they trying to accomplish and what do they get out of it? Ghosts are concepts with being but without physical form, and there are no real rules about them, so they can be whatever an author wants them to be. That strikes me as very appealing as a writer.

Alanna McFall.

MT: Ooo I love your take on ghosts. Do you have any standout ghost movies or books you’ve watched or read lately that really stayed with you after watching/reading them? Why those?

Alanna: There is a comedy show called Ghosts, put out by BBC, that I absolutely adore. A young couple inherits an ancient manor house, not knowing that it is filled with ghosts from all across time: there’s a caveman, a woman burned in a witch trial, a WWII captain, a nineties politician, and so on and so on.

MT: I’ve heard of Ghosts, and wanted to give it a try! Why did it stay with you after watching?

Alanna: It’s a great example of taking a fantastical premise and exploring the day to day realities of it, which is always a favorite subgenre of mine. There is an American version coming out, which I am eager to check out.

As for a classic that I recently reread, I will never stop recommending Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House. The recent Netflix adaptation was fun enough, and very much its own thing only loosely inspired by the book, but the original Hill House is such an achingly authentic and female expression of repression and desperation. And the prose is absolutely beautiful.

Ghosts | BBC

MT: You said you’d like to discuss writing women transforming into monstrous figures. Do you have any work currently available or soon to be available that have this theme in them? Why is writing women transforming into monstrous figures important for you to explore in writing?

Alanna: Without giving too much away, The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus does have a subplot about a female character becoming monstrous. I am also working on a stage play, under the current title This Time Last Year, that involves a woman using time travel powers to monstrous effect, if not as literally.

There is something so symbolically rich about women becoming monstrous in horror. Far too often, women are only allowed to exist in society if they are perfectly groomed, cordoned off, and conform to racist, ableist, ageist, heteronormative beauty standards. Anything outside of those boundaries becomes monstrous, and being a monster leads to both rejection and freedom. The female body can be destroyed and tortured and made to suffer in horror for titillation and male gaze fantasies, but when a woman makes herself monstrous, there is a sense of liberation. When you are no longer tying yourself to the world’s boundaries, or even the boundaries of your own body, there is no telling what glorious highs and wretched lows you can reach. 

Alanna McFall

MT: I love exploring that in my writing as well. I tend to turn my women humans into vampires a lot because I love the agency, power, and freedom they get to explore while being vampires. Least favorite horror movie and why?

Alanna: Ooh, that’s a good question. I swear this isn’t as much of a personal vendetta as this interview is making it out to be, but my least favorite horror movie is the 2018 adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I have watched a lot of horror that has bored or annoyed me, but that has to be the one that has made me the angriest. 

The lead in the novel, Merricat Blackwood, is an amazing classic horror character, a feral young woman who is full of anger and hate, but fiercely protective and loving towards her agoraphobic older sister Constance. The movie completely defangs Merricat, making her a wounded bird with a tragic backstory, and takes away all of the richness of her point of view. The acting is mostly wooden, the titular castle lacks so much atmosphere as to be laughable, and I don’t get the sense that anyone making the movie understood the book at all. I don’t think that adaptations need to be carbon copies of their source material, and I will admit that I am plenty biased on this one, but even as its own beast the movie is lackluster. The original Merricat Blackwood would pound iron nails into a tree to try to ward this movie away.

MT: Advice for aspiring writers?

Alanna: Prioritize your mental health and keep finding the joy in writing. It is far too easy to over-identify with your role as a writer and see your value only in terms of what you can produce, but that way lies madness. Write consistently when you can and try to cultivate a regular practice, but do not tear yourself apart when that is not possible. You worthwhile no matter what you produce.

MT: All good things to keep in mind! Well, I want to thank you for virtually sitting down and speaking with me about your novel. I can’t wait to read it.

Alanna McFall is a playwright and novelist based out of the Bay Area. Her debut paranormal road trip novel, The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus, came out in 2019 with Atthis Arts publishing and was the 2020 Silver Award Winner for Best New Voice: Fiction prize in the Benjamin Franklin Awards from the Independent Book Publishers Association. She has been a member of the Writer’s Pool with PlayGround SF for several seasons, and won the 2019 June Anne Baker Prize for upcoming female playwrights.

You can find Alanna at any of her links below!

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