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Owning Your Darkness Vs. Drowning In It
By The Editors
Tragedy Queens is an anthology of stunning work by writers across genres, including Quail Bell founder Christine Sloan Stoddard. The anthology was edited and curated by Leza Cantoral and we were glad to have the opportunity to chat with Cantoral about Sylvia Plath, Lana del Rey, and balking against societal expectations as the anthology nears its one year anniversary. (Okay, the interview was all over e-mail, but welcome to the digital age.)
What's your elevator pitch for Tragedy Queens?
Stories inspired by the words and art of Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath. The tone of this anthology is dark—noir, ghost story, rape revenge. Heartbreaking love stories set in surrealistic landscapes, dripping with sadness, nostalgia, and catharsis.
How long did the idea for Tragedy Queens live in your head before you decided to make it a reality? What gave you the kick in the ass to realize your dream?
What drove Tragedy Queens was a frustration with the tragic narrative of doomed women who are self-destructive and not ‘wholesome’ (whatever the fuck that means). I am sick in general of the stereotypes of the feminine in our culture. A woman is always in a box. Whore/Madonna, Virgin/Crone. I loved Madonna back in the day for challenging those stereotypes. She was an amazing role model for me as a child. Madonna got me interested in Marilyn Monroe. It still haunts me to think of Marilyn, or rather Norma Jean. It breaks my heart that a beautiful, talented woman who grew up as a sexually molested orphan became a giant star and was still treated like shit by the men in power roles—Hollywood producers, politicians, gangsters. She wanted meaty dramatic roles but they just saw her as a piece of ass and she was treated as a party favor to pass around and it killed her. They all killed Marilyn.
In college, I began reading Sylvia Plath and saw how she and Marilyn were like two sides of the same coin. Both representing the struggles of women in the 50’s & early 60’s to have it all and be respected for their talent, as well as their beauty, and the strange schisms that kind of struggle creates.
Then I discovered Lana Del Rey. Her songs have a way of sticking with you, of haunting you, of making you yearn for a time you never knew, for loves you never had but fantasized about having. I mainlined her songs and music videos. They inspired me in a way I had not been inspired since Madonna. She inspired me to recreate myself in my own image.
I wanted to do something that would resonate with me and with other women, so I thought of Tragedy Queens and pairing those two as the sort of glorious queens of tragedy, in a celebratory way—owning your darkness instead of just drowning in it.
Now that Tragedy Queens is approaching the one-year anniversary of its release, how would you describe the journey?
Creating my first antho was pretty frightening and anxiety inducing. There is a lot of work involved that I had no idea about. It was the first time this publishing thing really became real to me. I saw consequences. I was finally invested. It made me stronger & it made me not scared of doing my next one which will be inspired by witches. I am calling it The Call of the Witch. And like the Tragedy Queens antho challenged the tragic women stereotypes, this one will challenge the witchy stereotypes that poison society’s perception of empowered women of all mystical traditions.
HarperCollins published the lost Sylvia Plath story, "Mary Venture and the Lost Kingdom" on January 22nd. Are you psyched? Have you been following the media frenzy about it? What's your opinion about publishers releasing an author's fiction posthumously?
I am extremely excited there is more of her to enjoy. There is always a sadness when I think of her ending her life in her prime, at the height of her powers. Perhaps she would not have been remembered and immortalized in the halls of tragedy, but there would have been so much more of her to enjoy. Part of what drove this antho was that sadness and wanting more art to come from her brilliant works, even though she herself is gone.
Lana Del Rey's next album, Norma Fucking Rockwell, is due out March 29th, but fans have already gotten a taste with the single “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing For a Woman Like Me to Have, But I Have It." I take it you're not surprised by the Plath reference everyone's talking about. Do you feel like a genius now?
I am not surprised at all. Some of my antho contributors have asked me if I think she saw the antho. I have no idea if she has but honestly, I doubt it. I know that artists draw from other artists. Madonna is a huge Frida Kahlo and Anne Sexton fan, but perhaps that fact would shock people. They don’t see how pop art draws from all kinds of culture but it does. Artists do not create in a vacuum. Courtney Love was a big muse to me in high school and was honestly my spiritual gateway to Plath. It blew my mind seeing Lana Del Rey and Courtney Love on tour together. That was surreal as hell seeing the full cycle of my muse-dom in one place. I have, however, noticed a sales uptick since she released her song, so I am happy about that and I do hope she gets her hands on it somehow. I think she would definitely dig it.
Leza Cantoral is a human who lives on the internet. She is the Editor in Chief of CLASH Books. She hosts Get Lit With Leza, a podcast where she talks to cool ass writers. She is the author of Cartoons in the Suicide Forest and TRASH PANDA as well as the editor of Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey & Sylvia Plath. You can find her spending way too much time on FB, Twitter & IG @lezacantoral.
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