We sat down virtually with Magen Cubed, writer, essayist, and occasional critic, to talk about her book Leather & Lace, parasocial relationships, dealing with the angry mob of the internet (namely Twitter), and how important it is to love your characters (and your work)!
Monster Thoughts: You have built up quite an impressive following on Twitter based on your writing, namely your monster-hunting romance comedy, Leather and Lace. How does it feel to have such devoted fans of your writing, and have you ever felt like they’ve overstepped their admiration for you or your work?
Magen Cubed: It’s a very humbling feeling, to be honest. I’ve been writing and publishing seriously for about a decade, to various degrees of success as I worked toward the goal of telling my very specific brand of stories. Over that time, I’ve moved from horror to sci-fi/fantasy to what I call monstrous romance, a kind of gothic urban fantasy with very unconventional romantic leads. That can make it hard to build a readership, because it’s a lot of themes and ideas to juggle all at once.
But I think that readers come to me for those things, because that’s what you get with a Magen Cubed story. I’ll always give you a story about love, sex, death, trauma, monsters, and yes, even comedy, with a strong voice and an emotional core holding it all together. My little assembly of fans may be small, but they’re very dedicated and supportive of what I do. It means a lot, especially when writing is such quiet, lonely work much of the time. It’s just you and the keyboard for hundreds of hours, until the story is ready to go out into the world. Getting to hear from readers, finding out that the strange stories I tell resonate so strongly with them, makes the work worth it when it’s feeling particularly lonely.
As for the second part of the question about fans overstepping boundaries, the parasocial nature of the internet these days has made that an unfortunate reality. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes people who bought stories or pledged to my Patreon feel free to say or do certain things because they already “paid” for the right. Some people project a lot of expectations onto me, too, which I can’t possibly live up to. But I would say 99% of the people I engage with are incredibly kind, respectful, and generous. I’m humbled by and grateful for that.
MT: I definitely get that as well and have made a number of videos on the topic of parasocial relationships. People definitely expect us to act the way they want and write the way they want. From what I’ve seen, you handle these interactions expertly. Moving on, Dorian Villeneuve and Cash Leroy are the stars of Leather and Lace, and also the stars of tweets you’ve made (and fans have made) over the years to promote the short stories and books they appear in. This memeification of your characters is brilliant from a marketing standpoint. Did you consciously seek to memefy your characters in order to garner interest from potential readership or was it simply magnetic shitposting-turned-marketing? Why do you think your tweets about the characters garner the responses they do?
MC: The memeification of my characters is very deliberate, and actually plays two important roles. Firstly, I find it’s really useful to meme my characters as an outlet for some of my worst impulses as a writer. The longer a comedic story goes on, the higher the risk of Flanderizing your characters, where an action or trait becomes exaggerated until it eventually consumes their personalities.
By taking the most extreme or over-the-top parts of Dorian and Cash’s personalities and making them into jokes for the internet, I can keep that impulse in check and leave it out of the work. It frees me up to focus on their relationship and the themes of the books and helps me keep their characterizations in perspective as things change over the series.
Secondly, I come from a fandom background as a writer, with many years under my belt moderating communities, participating in contests, and writing hundreds of fanfics. The time I spent navigating through fan communities, ranging from video games and comic books to TV shows and film franchises, taught me how fans arrange themselves around media. The tropes they’re attracted to, the character types, the relationships and shipping wars. While fandom is different online today than it was when I last engaged directly with fandom around 2017 or so, I understand how fans think about their favorite characters and the language they use to describe them, because I was right there with them.
So, I memeify my Dorian and Cash the way I know I did the characters from games and shows I liked. I joke about Dorian and Cash the way I did my favorite characters and hype up the most exaggerated versions of them when I talk about them online. Dorian becomes a shrieking, hissing goth vampire dipshit, like an angry cat who hides under the couch and swipes when you walk by. Cash becomes an even bigger and sluttier cowboy himbo, so thirsty for cryptids that it’s causing a conflict of interest as a professional monster hunter. I project the fandom version of them to other people, and hope they respond to that positively.
And it works! People always tell me that my love for my characters is infectious and joyful. It makes them want to join in. Because I sincerely and genuinely love to clown on my characters and have a good time. It’s not a gag. I have to be my own fandom in order to convince other people my characters are worth their time. I love them so much, and I want you to love them, too.
Of course, it’s a bit cynical in that it does figure into my marketing, but every time I shitpost or joke online, I make at least one sale. I reach at least one person who didn’t know my work and decided to pick up a book about characters they never heard of. That’s huge to me and the reason I keep the jokes coming.
MT: I figured it was something like that, and might I say, it’s a genius marketing-tool! You speak often about the often willful obtuseness of those “permanently online” individuals who seek to misconstrue almost everything one says, especially on Twitter. As someone who has dealt with this myself, I commend your constant speaking on it. But I know how exhausting it can be to constantly state that “we are not our art.” Why do you think these people see you’re writing monster sex and conflate it with abuse (real or imagined)?
MC: There are a lot of complicated cultural forces at work online and a lot of people who flatten anything that isn’t “normal” into “deviance” or “abuse.” In my experience, this is the product of age-old misogyny, homophobia, and racism that’s been painted over to look more compassionate. Any romance story that doesn’t “model healthy behavior,” in that it contains some degree of kink or sexual fantasy, is teaching women to harm or disrespect themselves. Any expression of queer sexuality doesn’t explicitly teach “positive lessons” to young audiences is treated as dangerous or outright predatory, even though it’s made for and marketed specifically to adults.
I write queer monster romance, often with some very light, laughably common kink/fantasy elements. As bland as that is in a world where Guillermo del Toro won an Academy Award for the R-rated The Shape Of Water, that still makes me a target. There are some people out there who really want to smear anyone (read: women and marginalized genders, queer people, and BIPOC) who isn’t teaching family-friendly moral lessons or tells romance stories outside the framework of “healthy, normal” (read: straight, vanilla, typically white) relationships. Real “think of the children” moral panic.
It’s draining, for sure, but I feel like the tide of the discussion is turning as more people (at least from where I sit) are beginning to see through the charade. After all, how can you call somebody a dangerous person over some stories about monsters in loving romantic relationships with humans? If this was anything but moral panic, surely, they would have more to point to than a book they didn’t even read, right? At least, that’s how I see it right now.
MT: You write a lot of monster-based books. What exactly intrigues you about them, if anything at all?
MC: I see monsters in a very specific way, that I personally don’t often encounter in other books or media. Monsters are often viewed as extensions of the human world, whether the expressions of the day’s anxieties, traumas, or the things we try to reject about ourselves. It’s also very common for people to relate to monsters as outsiders and lonely, romantic heroes and anti-heroes. And that’s all fine, but I usually take a different approach.
My monsters tend to be separate from but parallel to humans. In Leather and Lace for example, Dorian is from a species of vampire that branched away from the human evolutionary tree to flee into woods and caves. They developed their own languages, cultures, and values in the wilderness, only encountering their very distant cousins again as humans began to spread out. The ensuing encounters made vampires and other monsters the subjects of folktales and moral parables. Over time, they were slowly subjugated by humans, forcibly integrated into human societies and allowed to live in secret as long as they behave.
I like to think of monsters as being part of the natural world that’s been overwhelmed by our industrialized one. They have their own needs and desires rooted in the lives they make for themselves, and yet are forced to deal with us. My vampires have an antagonistic view of humans, a feeling that appears in their art, religion, and cultural traditions. But my vampires are also their own people, who want to live in dignity and determine their own fates without human meddling.
In general, I like to think of monsters as something struggling against our current human moment. They want to run free in the wilderness again. Their claws and fangs make them unfit to live among humans as they try to find balance in a world that wasn’t build for them. My monsters will either find a way to survive in our world or bite their way out of it. To me, this is what I find most fascinating about monsters and telling stories about them.
MT: The first iteration of Leather and Lace was published in a comic anthology Twisted Romance, what was that experience like being featured in a book amongst artists and other monster writers?
MC: It was a really good experience! Everyone involved in the project was very kind and it was a blast to work on. Comic book and TV writer Alex de Campi originally organized the project and brought us all together to tell a wide range of off-beat romance stories, including comics and prose. The first issue was horror-themed, so my story slotted in perfectly between the two comics. I also come from a visual arts background and have a lot of writing under my belt on/about comics, so I tend to relate to those audiences a lot.
It was nice to get my work in front of comic book audiences, who may not really be all that experienced with prose fiction and reach people I probably wouldn’t have on my own. The positive response to Dorian and Cash in that initial version of their story was what really pushed me to consider expanding their story into a full series. Since then, I’ve written two books and I think about 30 short stories about them. Without Twisted Romance, we wouldn’t have Dorian and Cash as they exist today, so I remain very grateful for the opportunity to be in the project and for everyone I met along the way.
MT: What’s next in terms of Dorian and Cash’s adventures and do you have any other stories you’re planning, and can you share them?
MC: I’m currently working on the sequel to Leather and Lace, which is called Black Diamond. It sees Dorian and Cash dealing with missing vampire teens, murderous vampire cultists, and unhappy future mothers-in-law who don’t appreciate their sons bringing vampires home for family dinner. The novel series, which is called Southern Gothic, consists of a planned eight books, which delve into different parts of their world. From run-ins with the vampire mafia and monster hunter politics to dealing in magic and tracking down Dorian’s wayward family, this series is going to go in some weird places.
We have killer mermaids, crooked cops, tulpas, demons, exorcists, monster crime, mothman detectives, occult relic dealers, ghouls, and messy family drama. Dorian and Cash have a lot to navigate as they grow together as partners, both in monster-hunting and life, and their relationship continues to deepen. I also have at least one planned spin-off novella in the works, that covers some of the West Coast vampire mafia drama for a different viewpoint on all the chaos. So, I have a lot more planned for Dorian and Cash!
MT: Magen, I want to thank you for wanting to talk about your writing, your books, and managing online fame! We’re looking forward to more Dorian & Cash!
Magen Cubed is an Eisner-nominated writer, essayist, and occasional critic, best known for her queer monster-hunting urban fantasy/paranormal romance series SOUTHERN GOTHIC. She has appeared in the critically acclaimed TWISTED ROMANCE comics anthology from Image Comics and has bylines on the award-winning Women Write About Comics. Magen lives in Florida with her girlfriend Melissa and a little dog named Cecil.
You can find Magen at any of her links below!