Beneath the Skin: Fiction, Cannibals, and Vegetarianism (GUEST POST)

Beneath the Skin: Fiction, Cannibals, and Vegetarianism

By Andy Elliott

I have a secret: Inside the Outside literally changed my life.

For some years, I had harboured the suspicion that eating animals was morally suspect and a practice I should curb, but, goddamn it, those critters were just too delicious and the prospect of vegetarianism too inconvenient to compel me to action. Upon finishing Inside the Outside, a remarkable tale of a young woman raised within a cannibalistic cult, I instantly stopped eating meat and fish.

That was 7 months ago.

In that time countless friends, relatives, and colleagues have asked me:


"Why vegetarianism?"

"Why now?"

To all of these questions and to all of these people, without exception, I have lied, cobbling together some vague response about having suddenly and inexplicably reached that decision when all along the truth is...

Martin Lastrapes made me do it!

Why the secrecy? I'm embarrassed. In the end it wasn't the PETA campaigns, the health or environmental arguments that ultimately occasioned this decision. I was simply moved to it by a work of fiction.

The detached, unquestioning way in which the book's main characters equate people with meat, coupled with the isolation of the setting and the quality of Lastrapes' prose is tantamount to indoctrination. When I learned, through the book's protagonist, Timber Marlow, that people on the outside survive by eating animals, it was as though I was hearing this information for the first time.

By that point meat was meat; it was all or nothing, cannibalism or vegetarianism. For the time being at least, I have plumped for the latter. While this is far from the first time I've been moved by great literature, it is certainly the most impact a book has ever had on my diet and probably on the way I choose to live my life.

Inside the Outside is often categorised as horror. This is the expectation I had of it and yet what actually unfolded on the page was not genre fiction at all, but an accomplished work approaching literary fiction—albeit one that has moments of high terror, gruesome dismemberment, and cannibalism. For people who find it hard to reconcile those two positions, I have two words: American Psycho.

If you want a grisly page-turner, Inside the Outside will more than deliver. Get beneath the skin and subcutaneous fat though and, as with the human body, what you'll find with Inside the Outside is a complex and impressive structure, not of veins and capillaries but themes, ideas, and commentary.

Lastrapes deals with them deftly, almost playfully, often allowing only a short glimpse for the idea to form before moving the narrative on, then returning to it pages or sometimes chapters later. Some of the gruesome set-pieces excepted, it is a very accessible read, particularly so when you consider that it touches some big ideas like belief, power, corruption, objectification, and consumerism, as well as offering considered insights into intimacy, sexuality, and the loss of innocence.

Or it could just be a clever ruse to make you give up eating meat.

Andy Elliott is a writer living and working in Wales. A graduate of Trinity College, Carmarthen's MA Creative Writing course, he has contributed to the New Welsh Review and published his first short novel, Composition, in May 2011.

The Undying Popularity of Vampires (GUEST POST)

Gianna Perada is the author of the vampire novel Blood Life. I had the good fortune of meeting her in May of 2012 at the awards ceremony for the San Francisco Book Festival, where Blood Life was being honored. We got along like old pals, talking about writing, publishing and vampires, among other things.

The Undying Popularity of Vampires

By Gianna Perada

I have a vested interest in the mythology and culture of vampires, as I’m in the process of writing a trilogy, which began with my debut novel Blood Life. While I have every confidence that Blood Life is interesting and unique, the reality is there are many books and movies about vampires out in the world already.

It’s truly a saturated market and tough for us authors to stand apart without a good fight. But, still, luckily for us, vampires are all the rage. They’ve been resurrected from Anne Rice’s romantic and sexy reign into a new, more carefully crafted modern version consisting of glitter, current clothing trends, and youth. And audiences can’t get enough!

True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and Stephenie Meyer’s epically popular Twilight series are only the most recent examples of the undying popularity of vampires. And if you read enough vampire literature, you’ll find that no two vampires are exactly the same. Some wear sunglasses, foundation, and sunscreen to blend in (Lestat), some bathe in the blood of virgins to remain young (Countess Bathory), and some vaporize and shape shift (Dracula). Still others walk around in Victorian lace, Levis, patent leather or latex, combat boots, and cloaks (many of the newer versions); some even resist the urge to feed—gasp!—with special serums (Blade), while others prey on the weak or ruined (et al). You name it, it’s out there.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls, and Michael Romkey’s I, Vampire are probably the novels that most influenced me when I began writing Blood Life—but I wasn’t influenced by fiction alone. I read about historical figures, such as Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed and Vlad “The Impaler” Dracul. I also read accounts of vampirism throughout history from Montague Summers, Konstantinos, and Manuela Dunn-Mascetti, among others. Over the last 15 years, as I worked on Blood Life, drawing from heaps of research, I also mixed in some vampire traits from pop culture, such as Steve Niles’ graphic novel 30 Days of Night and Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish film Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In).

I allowed myself to be fully immersed and influenced so that my own creatures could come out and stand in their own light, alone and beautifully defined. The vampires in Blood Life breed with witches and create a new species called the Combined; they are the top race in my version of the vampire mythology. Pure vampires and the Combined are both predators of humans, as they both need them for sustenance.

They are creatures—monsters if you will—but totally and completely human and lovable in their other actions. They may drink until the heartbeat stops, but they possess a full arsenal of emotions (both good and evil) and live among humans in daylight and possess great strength and magical abilities.

In the end, there are many, many versions of vampires and they are all unique and fascinating in their own fabulous and refreshing ways. Some are loved and some are hated, but what delights me the most is the fact that they are still so embraced and adored by the culture at large.

Buy Gianna's award-winning novel

Blood Life on

Martin Made Me Eat Brains (GUEST POST)

Cassandra Pearson is a blogger and horror fanatic. Her website, Monkeycstars, regularly provides articles and videos on all things horror, primarily focussing on films, television, and literature. As a fan of her website, I contacted Cassandra and asked her about her unwavering love of horror. This is what she had to say...

Martin Made Me Eat Brains

By Cassandra Pearson 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been totally obsessed with horror. When I was a little girl, my dad never brought home Disney movies—he brought me a new horror movie every night. I freaking loved it! I like being scared; and horror films and books are a safe way to experience that terror. In recent years, zombies have moved up on my favorites list of monsters.

When it’s dark in the house or there are no streetlights outside, I start wondering if a zombie apocalypse is under way. If there were a zombie apocalypse and the zombies were slow, like in Night of The Living Deadthen I'd probably stand a chance of surviving. But If they were fast, like in 28 Days Laterthen I'd probably just double tap myself and call it a day.

When it comes to books, I love reading paranormal romance, supernatural, thrillers, and horror.  GoodReads is a website where I often discover great books and authors. I first came across Martin's debut novel, Inside the Outside, by searching the Goodreads Giveaways page. Initially, I was drawn to the cover of the book; it looked like an alien with a meat cleaver and that image got me to read the blurb. Turns out it was about a cult of cannibals—yes please!

I went to Martin's website and found that he posted Inside the Outside in serialized form, so I began reading it. I was eating the pages up and when I reached the end and realized there was more to the story that hadn’t yet been posted, I went a little psycho. I immediately bought Inside the Outside, finished it, and became so obsessed with the story that I contacted Martin and asked him if he'd write a guest post on my blog.

I told my friend, Marsha, about Inside the Outside and we had lengthy discussions about it. All the cannibalism put brains on my mind; since I was a kid, I've always been curious about the taste of brains. Marsha suggested I buy brains from the store, so the very next day I went on a search and found brains at a beat up old Food Lion.

I immediately went home, put on my gear, and fried me some brains and eggs. I can’t cook and I probably didn’t have it on the stove long enough, but I figured if some people could eat it raw, a little undercooked brain wasn't gonna kill me. I thought it would taste foul, like bad breath or something—don’t ask why I think these things; it’s kinda like how I imagine water tastes like sick people—but brains actually taste like sausage.

Obviously, if a story pushed me to do all that, it has got to be pretty freaking good. With that in mind, I was so excited when Martin announced he'd soon be publishing his second novel, The Vampire, The Hunter and The Girl. You see, along with zombies (and now cannibals) I love vampires!

Martin published the first two chapters of his forthcoming novel, "Adam & Olivia" and "Jesus the Mexican Vampire Hunter," and, of course, I read them immediately and now I’m dying for him to hurry up and publish the whole book. I’m already expecting to be shocked, crying, screaming, and cringing; all the things that happened to me while reading Inside the Outside.

What can say? Horror is my love. You won’t find any romantic comedies in my stash—they give me the creeps.

Microcosm and Macrocosm: A Closer Look at Inside the Outside (GUEST POST)

Max Zaoui, a 35-year-old Frenchman living in the East of France, recently read my debut novel, Inside the Outside, and contacted me through Facebook to tell me how much he enjoyed it. It's the sort of message authors love, just an out-of-the-blue compliment from a complete stranger. Max is an English teacher by trade and a husband and father at home, so he doesn't have a whole lot of free time; the fact that he spent a portion of his leisure time reading my book, only to then take more time out to write me a kind message was flattering enough. But Max then told me he loved Inside the Outside so much that he could write a whole essay about it—and then he did.  Every author should be so lucky. So, without further ado, I present to you...

Microcosm and Macrocosm: A Closer Look at Inside the Outside 

by Max Zaoui

While reading Inside the Outside, I felt a kinship between this story and what Chuck Palahniuk can write: brilliant storytelling hiding universal truths under a shocking, violent and original surface layer. I did not understand how this novel could be deemed a horror story, as I've read here and there. To me, it's a literary achievement that doesn't need a label.

Martin Lastrapes' novel is a brilliant allegory, a book-long metaphor of the world we live in. It may not look like it at first sight, as we follow some kind of man-eating tribe living in a secluded place somewhere in the USA. Their customs may seem backward, arbitrary and cruel: everyone is trapped in the "compound," as their master/guru Daddy Marlow forbids going into the "Outside," which is considered evil; you can be sacrificed and eaten for even asking. Daddy Marlow can do everything he wants, while the rest of the tribe has to follow orders and shut up. He can impregnate every woman, while others can't have a normal relationship. You can't let your hair grow, because it's evil.

The Divinity of Feminine Reproach, which is the name of Daddy Marlow's compound, looks like a sect—a cult. Yet, when you think about it, his society shares common points with ours, or with any other in history: they have a strong and charismatic leader in Daddy Marlow (POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS LEADER), a definite living space with frontiers (TERRITORY), a set of rules everyone must follow (LAW) or they can be severely punished (JUSTICE), a people split between those who're happy that way and those who dream of leaving (REVOLT). The Divinity is a microcosm (the "Inside"), which parallels the functioning of the world at large, the macrocosm (the "Outside").

In Jonathan Swift's classic novel, Gulliver's Travels, probably the most representative book using the microcosm/macrocosm pattern, the main character, Lemuel Gulliver, travelled the world and encountered foreign populations living along (for him) strange conceptions. This 18th century novel was a fierce attack on politics and religion, since every place he went was corrupted in its own way. Inside the Outside, with a title already hinting at the idea of micro and macrocosm, is both completely different and similar to Swift's work. Different in that the main character, a cannibal/murderer/lesbian named Timber Marlow, is the kind of "savage" Gulliver would have met along his trips in that she's not discovering the world, but rather she's trapped, like the others, in this jail-like compound. However, it's similar in the parallel anyone can draw between this world and ours, this microcosm and the world at large: it's a place where corruption touches and transforms everyone, where false beliefs and violent customs justify terrible decisions, where the power of a few is based on the ignorance and weakness of all the others, where lies and deceit are constant.

The story is presented as such by an omniscient narrator (I can't spoil it too much here, but let's just say this narrator is both "inside" and "outside") who sometimes addresses their reader, thus allowing for a metafictional aspect: from the beginning the reader knows he is reading a "story," something he may be allowed to doubt or question, even more so when sometimes the narrator admits that some parts are constructions.

Consider this excerpt from "Chapter Eight": "But the reality is, for all the many stories she can vouch for regarding the Divinity, what follows is a narrative completely of her imagination. As best as she can make sense of it, the story of Sissy Marlow probably proceeded as follows." There are even, as this excerpt shows, stories within the story (especially in "Part Two: The Outside"), another metafictional aspect.

The whole narrative appears then as a legend passed from one generation to the next, some kind of symbolical/mystical/philosophical myth that should not be taken literally. This is linked to the previous idea: many, if not all, conflicts in the history of mankind were linked with a literal reading of scriptures, a blind faith in words, whether they were spoken by a religious/political leader or written in a holy book.

The second part of the novel adds more flesh to the main character and to the others surrounding her. A clever mix of flashbacks and present, quite close to what Quentin Tarantino can do in his movies, allows for a better understanding of each one's evolution (or metamorphosis, a word used when a reference is made to Franz Kafka's novel, The Metamorphosis, at the beginning of "Part Three: The Fifth Year," in a very metafictional passage), of how they came to be what they are. The story becomes a kind of picaresque novel, a bildungsroman like Voltaire's Candide, only with multiple heads. It seems every character in Inside the Outside possesses a form of naïveté at first, but all are confronted with the world's corruption. They all have to adapt in one way or another (survival of the fittest), but no one is left unscathed, as if it was impossible to remain "outside" the "outside." Especially since every situation called for some form of transgression, be it cannibalism, sexuality (whether hetero or homo), murder, escape—all things meant to leave one form of evil, only to throw them back into another.

While Timber seems to represent humanity, a glimmer of hope and free will, she is nonetheless capable of murder, as Lastrapes alludes to when describing "the dark seed with charcoal branches around her heart." Leaving Daddy Marlow and the Inside will only send her to repeat the same things with another leader in the Outside: Joseph Goldstein—sort of putting the Inside inside the Outside. There's an unescapable fate at work here, a condemnation to repeat the same things over and over, as in Nietzsche's concept of the eternal return. Even Disneyland, often mentioned in "Part Three," looks like a reversed mirror, yet another microcosm (or a macrocosm in itself filled with microcosms) where make-believe reigns.

For so many of the characters in Inside the Outside, freedom looks out-of-reach, though it may just be a self-imposed limitation; an idea alluded to by Ginger Falls, one of the primary characters in the novel, when, during a conversation with Billy D. Luscious she tells him the story of how Houdini was once willingly trapped in a jail cell by a police officer who dared him to escape. When Houdini finally gave up, the police officer told him the cell was never locked.  All he had to do was walk out and he’d be free.

Feature This! (GUEST POST)

A few months ago, I was approached by Jose Oliver De Castro, a college student and contributor to his school's newspaper and magazine. He wanted to interview me for a feature article in the newspaper and I, obviously, was more than happy to comply. Along the way, Jose's editor decided to make the interview part of the magazine. Jose was excited, but he had his reservations. He worried that the story would get dropped, since not everything makes the final cut. I told him that if it did get dropped, I'd publish it myself on Inside Martin. Well, the fact that we've gotten this far should tell you how the story ends. So, for your reading pleasure, I present to you...

FEATURE THIS!: An Interview with Novelist Martin Lastrapes

By Jose Oliver De Castro

“I’m a vegetarian and, as a vegetarian, I was fascinated with the idea of cannibalism.”

This was just one of the ideas that Martin Lastrapes, 34, had in mind when writing his debut novel, Inside the Outsidewhich tells the story of a young girl named Timber Marlow who grows up as a cannibal in a cult in the San Bernardino Mountains. When she is about 14 or 15 years old, she manages to escape the cult into the mainstream society, where she tries to assimilate.  For Lastrapes, Inside the Outside is his dark and twisted version of the coming of age story.

“I always thought of it as a metaphor for growing up. When you grow up you live in a relatively small place. You start off with your house, eventually your house turns into your block and your neighborhood,” Lastrapes said. “At some point you have to leave that small isolated corner of the world that was your own and discover the world is bigger than you realized and there are different people that you have to encounter.”

While writing Inside the Outside, Lastrapes used the metaphor with Timber Marlow in mind.

“I took it to the extreme in a relatively dark book,” Lastrapes said, “where instead of growing up in a neighborhood, she grew up in a cult of cannibals.”

Upon its release, the book reached #3 on Amazon’s Top 100 Hot New Releases in Horror.

“There was actually a certain point where I was even ahead of Stephen King, which was very exciting,” Lastrapes said. “It’s been an exciting time and I’m sort of blown away by both the initial success of the book and also the reception of the book.”

Lastrapes was born on December 9, 1977, in the city of Orange and was raised in Rancho Cucamonga, California.  After graduating from Alta Loma High School in 1996, he attended Chaffey College, Cal State Fullerton, and Cal State San Bernardino. While at Cal State San Bernardino, Lastrapes met James Brown, a creative writing professor and acclaimed author of The Los Angeles Dairies and This River.

“The time when I met James Brown is really when I got serious and focused about my career as a writer,” Lastrapes said.

Brown described Lastrapes as a serious, determined student when they first crossed paths in the classroom years ago. As Brown’s student, Lastrapes made it easy for him as a professor.

“I’d like to flatter myself that I helped improve his already strong writing,” Brown said, “but all I can really take credit for is encouraging an already talented writer.”

In 1996, during his first year in college, Lastrapes took his first English course with S. Kay Murphy, author of Tainted Legacy: The Story of Alleged Serial Killer Bertha Gifford. It was Murphy who Lastrapes credits with being the first teacher to take notice of his writing and encourage him to pursue it.

“Martin’s essays were far and above the writing level of the rest of the class,” Murphy said. “I enjoyed his casual yet fluid writing style, and often wrote notes in the margins of his papers about his writing ability.”

Growing up, Lastrapes' first significant creative influence was his older brother, Greg, a filmmaker and musician.  As a kid, Lastrapes watched his brother perform on stage at the Roxy Theater in Hollywood, while also making many television appearances as an actor and singer. Greg made it a point to tap into his brother’s creativity early on.

“Since the day that Martin could read, we have been collaborating,” Greg said. “I always work him into whatever project I've got cooking, and that has included writing projects.”

While Lastrapes had many creative interests growing up, from comic books to movies, it was his discovery of creative writing that lit a fire inside of him.

“Writing became the ideal medium to sort of exercise my creativity,” Lastrapes said. “I fell in love with it when I was 18 and we have had a passionate love affair for the last 15 years.”

For the next 15 years, Lastrapes is looking ahead as he evolves and develops as a writer.

“I’m definitely not done growing and I plan on getting better,” Lastrapes said, “otherwise it would just be boring if this were the end of the road.”