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.

Vampire Influence on Television (GUEST POST)

Cami Hadley is a freelance lifestyle writer with a passion for film, fashion, home decor, entertainment and the technology that simplifies her life.  She left her entertainment law practice in 2007 to spend more time with the true loves of her life: her family. Cami's a proud wife and mom of two children, two dogs, one cat and a goldfish.

Vampire Influence on Television

By Cami Hadley

With the box office still buzzing from the latest (and final) installment of The Twilight Saga and the TV brimming with vampire-related TV series, it may seem like vampire-mania is a recent development. However, fascination with the mythology and legend of vampirism has long been a staple of western culture, especially when it comes to television.

Vampire Flashback

You may or may not recall the popular late-‘60s/early-‘70s TV series Dark Shadows. This vamp-centric soap opera ran from 1966-71 on ABC and was briefly revived in 1991 before NBC cancelled it. Johnny Depp was a big fan of the show and recently played the main vampire, Barnabas Collins, in 2012 film adaptation of Dark Shadows directed by Tim Burton.

A ’90s Resurgence

Perhaps, 1991 was too soon to revive Dark Shadows. Fast-forward six years to the debut of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), and you’ll see TV audiences enthralled in the story of a high school cheerleader delving into a supernatural world to fight forces of evil and repeatedly save the planet. Buffy’s wild success was followed by a spinoff series, Angel (1999-2004), in which the vampire is the hero and battles demons and their human allies to assuage his guilt over his own past sins. One might argue that these two series inspired and set the stage for the popularity of the Twilight franchise of novels (first published in 2005) and movies (which debuted in 2008).

Carrying the Torch

Today, several TV series continue the vampiric TV legacy forged by Dark Shadows and revived by BuffyTrue Blood, has aired on HBO since 2008 and been the center of much controversy among fans of the Sookie Stackhouse novels upon which the TV series is (some would argue, loosely) based. Being Human is a popular BBC series that follows the struggles of roommates who happen to be a vampire, a ghost and a werewolf. The CW didn’t want to miss out on the public’s renewed fascination with the undead and launched The Vampire Diaries in 2009.

Spotting a pattern? Vampires on TV never really die. You can always count on them to come back for more.

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

Romanticization of Stalking (GUEST POST)

by Mauro Corso

Mauro Corso is a journalist, writer, and actor who lives between Rome and Berlin. As a special contributor to, Corso has written a series of Guest Posts about vampires in popular culture. This is PART 4 of 4

Edward and Bella | Twilight

The description of the first Adam and Olivia “encounter” in "Adam & Olivia," Martin Lastrapes' vampire short, is a very powerful portrait of a relationship between a predator and a prey in its most primal terms. Everything is about scent, pursual and the thrill of the hunt in general. Some time ago I read about a very interesting criticism surrounding Twilight about Edward and Bella’s relationship. At the core of the criticism was a very simple question: Is Edward a stalker?

More importantly, is vampire literature a romanticization of stalking (and violence)?

Let’s first take a look at a non-vampire example. In Marc Webb’s 2012 film, The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker takes pictures of Gwen Stacy when she is not watching her; he sometimes follows her as well. All of this is perceived as cute and clumsy. Should we consider this stalking as well? I think we should tread lightly when applying laws of our world to those (albeit fictional) supernatural relationships. When defining stalking in a literary context, we should keep in mind what stalking actually is.

Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker | The Amazing Spider-Man
Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker | The Amazing Spider-Man

In Florida, for example, stalking is defined as a repeated following or harassment, where “to harass” means to “engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress in such person and serves no legitimate purpose” (Florida statute 784.048). So we can see that behind the definition of stalking there isn’t a single episode, but a behavioral pattern.

Also, the point of view of the potential victim should be taken into proper account. Is the victim experiencing “substantial emotional distress”? Is the victim feeling cut out from the rest of the world? Is the victim developing some kind of dependency to an aggressor? I think that these questions should rule out Edward Cullen’s behaviour as stalking, especially when considering Bella’s reactions.

Returning to the "Adam & Olivia" short, what is going on is definitely a violent aggression, portrayed in a very vivid and somewhat disturbing fashion. Do we need to be concerned about the possible ramifications of a “pleasurable violence”?

Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon

We should always be concerned about this matter. Romanticization of violence, especially on women, should always be considered very carefully.

I don’t know what is going to happen next in Martin Lastrapes' forthcoming novel, The Vampire, the Hunter, and the Girl, and I don’t know what is going to happen to Olivia.  I do, however, know that Lastrapes treats his female characters with the utmost regard—just as Joss Whedon does with characters like Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Timber Marlow, the main character in Lastrapes debut novel, Inside the Outside, embodies that notion of an empowered woman. She takes her destiny into her own hands and personally challenges the strict patriarchal society where she grew up, engaging in both ideological and physical battles. For this reason, I am very confident that Olivia is going to take a lead role in Lastrapes next novel.

In "Adam & Olivia," we are even given a very telling hint: Olivia wants to write a vampire novel. The identification with the author could not be more obvious than that.

I think that even when we talk about violence, we should consider a character as a whole, in its development, in the course of actions he or she chooses and in the beliefs of this character.

I must admit I have great expectations for Olivia and I believe that the romanticization problem is not going to be much of an issue in her story.

Check out all of Mauro Corso's articles in this series: 


Vampires, Boredom, and Sex (GUEST POST)

by Mauro Corso

Mauro Corso is a journalist, writer, and actor who lives between Rome and Berlin. As a special contributor to, Corso has written a series of Guest Posts about vampires in popular culture. This is PART 1 of 4

What is the main problem of immortality? It lasts more than anyone can reasonably bear. Adam, the vampire in Martin Lastrapes' vampire short "Adam & Olivia," has been a vampire for thirty years and is already bored to death. Boredom is an underdeveloped theme in vampire literature. Sometimes we get a hint of this existential problem in the life of vampire, like in True Blood when we see  Sophie-Anne Leclerq, Vampire Queen of Louisiana, playing a board game. Or we may suspect that all the power play and meddling in human lives is simply a device to hide the emptiness of being a vampire.

Lastrapes’ vampire short made me feel this powerful boredom in Adam’s life right from the start, setting this tale apart from everything else I have seen or read so far. Boredom, it seems, might well be the worst part about being a vampire. For example, consider the unlife of Edward Cullen from Twilight series, who is is essentially stuck in high school for all eternity. Even if we don’t sense his boredom, I can’t possibly imagine a more powerful image of damnation. Given all this, we might ask:

What is a vampire’s main drive?


Everything else is just a pastime between survival and drinking sessions. There is sex, of course, which is a rather problematic issue in vampire physiology. I think that the sexuality of vampires is generally taken for granted. It would be hard to categorize this drive as just another pastime. While it is one of the most basic human drives, is it possible for something not living to have an erotic desire? It is quite true that love and death are strictly intertwined (thank you Mr. Freud!), but saying that a corpse feels attraction to someone else (especially living!) is something I always found dissatisfying. Possibly, a vampire not interested in sex would be too un-human to sympathize with.

I believe that sex is the only interesting thing in the delirious mayhem of twists that is True Blood (yep, I don’t like it...please bear with me). Between Sookie, Bill, and Eric, their sexuality is never questioned; vampires and humans have sex with each other without missing a beat. And in Twilight, sexuality is taken to the next level: Supernatural pregnancy. I find this concept really frightening, and not in a good way. I thought that the only way a vampire could have children was by siring a human being.

The way the TV seriesBeing Human  (US version) depicts sexuality in the vampire world makes the most sense to me, because it is rough, messy, and involves a lot of blood; we so often take for granted the importance of blood in the life of a vampire. The drive for blood in sexuality is rarely clear in vampire stories such as Twilight or True Blood.

This brings to mind another problematic aspect in many vampire stories, which is the "vegetarian" vampire—a vampire who doesn't feed from humans. There is something primal and erotic about vampires feeding, which seems to have strong connections with sex, so the idea of a vampire being able to restrain himself/herself from draining someone he/she is having sex with is difficult for me to swallow.

At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I would like to see some sort of vampire sexuality that actually makes sense. Even Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which revolves around the idea of undying love (especially in Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptation), isn't very clear on how the physical part of this immortal relationship is treated—due, in large part, because Dracula’s romantic desire is doomed to failure.

Sexuality, especially in literature, should not be the easy way to engage a reader; it should have a deep, existential meaning in the economy of every novel.

Check out all of Mauro Corso's articles in this series: 


VIDEO: An Ode to Indie Authors (GUEST POST)

The BiblioBabes (Kat and Cara) are the best darned book bloggers on the planet. They're smart and funny and, most importantly, they support indie authors. I wrote a guest post for their website called "An Ode to Book Bloggers" about the irreplaceably important role book bloggers play in the world of independent publishing. And, in return, they recorded the video below, talking about why indie authors mean so much to them.

An Ode to Indie Authors (VIDEO)

By The BiblioBabes

(Kat and Cara)

Once More, With Buffy (GUEST POST)

by Mauro Corso

Mauro Corso is a journalist, writer, and actor who lives between Rome and Berlin. As a special contributor to, Corso has written a series of Guest Posts about vampires in popular culture. This is PART 2 of 4

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

When an author quotes something belonging to pop culture, we should always carefully consider what’s behind it. A lesser author chooses to name something popular as a way to build an easy bond with a reader; when you name something a reader can readily connect to, you, as a writer, are making your job a lot easier. After all, writing is all about seduction. This is a double-edged sword, though. If a reader can sense there is nothing behind the given reference, disappointment will kick in, and, for that reason, everything an author did will be in vain. On the other hand, a superior author will use a reference to pop culture, not as literary shorthand, but as a means of expressing some larger theme or idea.

In “Adam & Olivia,” Martin Lastrapes' vampire short, he makes a reference to Joss Whedon's iconic television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show is about Buffy Summers, a high school student by day and vampire slayer by night. Whedon cleverly positions Buffy and her battles against evil as metaphors for the hardships that come with being a teenager. In "Adam & Olivia," Lastrapes doesn't simply reference the show itself, he makes a very specific reference to a particular episode.

In "Adam & Olivia," we learn that Olivia is a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; she is particularly fond of Episode 7/Season 6: “Once More, With Feeling.” While Lastrapes doesn't go into great detail about the episode itself, the fact that he mentions it at all leads me to believe we should take it as a hint of what is to come—or, at the very least, how the character of Olivia is going to shape her destiny throughout the story.

“Once More, With Feeling” is a musical episode in which Whedon wrote all the songs in different styles to fit the various moods and themes of the episode and its featured characters. Similar to "Adam & Olivia"—which is both a short story, as well as a chapter in Lastrapes' forthcoming novel—"Once More, With Feeling" works very well as a stand alone episode and, at the same time, it’s a pivotal episode of Season 6.


In the opening episode of Season 6, Buffy, having died at the conclusion of the previous season, is raised from the dead by her friends. She told her friends they rescued her from Hell, as she didn't want to them to feel bad about what they'd done. But, in "Once More, With Feeling," we learn that Buffy was in Heaven, finally at peace from all the struggles that come with being a slayer. Her resurrection is a traumatic experience that changes her, setting her apart from other human beings.

In 1906, Russian novelist Leonid Andreyev wrote “Lazarus,” a short story about the aftermath of Lazarus' resurrection. Even if Lazarus has come back to life and is cherished by his family and friends, there is something unnamed he brought with him from the afterlife, an invisible touch of death, a hint at the mortality of every human being. While Buffy, in Season 6, shares some similarities with Lazarus, her situation also has some distinct differences.

As a slayer, Buffy is already alone, but as a resurrected slayer, she is set further apart from humanity. As Season 6 progresses, she becomes more and more detached, resulting in an unsettling loneliness  which becomes the main theme of "Once More, With Feeling." While Buffy feels completely alone, the episode demonstrates how every other character in the show also feels alone, each of them harboring some secret that he or she cannot bring themselves to face or share with anybody else.

By the end of the episode, Buffy finds a way to feel alive—or, to be more precise, she finds a way to “feel” once again, an allusion to the title of the episode. The solution to her conundrum is a paradox: In order to feel alive, she allows herself to fall in in love with a vampire, the undead.

I don't yet know what direction Lastrapes' forthcoming novel, The Vampire, the Hunter, and the Girl, will go in, but I can already see, based on his two vampire shorts, that loneliness is going to be a major theme. In "Adam & Olivia," Adam stalks and, ultimately, attacks Olivia out of loneliness. Olivia, for her part, is also lonely, stuck in a job that has nothing to do with her true calling, which is writing. Jesus, the featured character in "Jesus the Mexican Vampire Hunter," is also a loner; hunting vampires, as Buffy Summers so aptly demonstrated, is a lonely trade. One thing I am certain of:

At some point Adam, Olivia, and Jesus will have to find a way to work out their feelings of loneliness—and I can't wait to find out what happens as they do.

Check out all of Mauro Corso's articles in this series: 



A Vampire Diptych (GUEST POST)

by Mauro Corso

Mauro Corso is a journalist, writer, and actor who lives between Rome and Berlin. As a special contributor to, Corso has written a series of Guest Posts about vampires in popular culture. This is PART 1 of 4…

Mauro Corso

As an avid fan of Inside the Outside, I was thrilled to learn that Martin Lastrapes’ next novel was going to be about vampires.

It seemed to me like a logical evolution, as vampirism is the supernatural equivalent of cannibalism; and, of course, there would seem to be some common ground between blood-sucking vampires and flesh-eating cannibals—at the very least, in the powerful drive to hunt.

Of course, Timber Marlow (the protagonist cannibal of Inside the Outside) didn’t have an eternity to live, as is the case with vampires, which is an important difference. While, at the end of the day, there are more differences than similarities between vampires and cannibals, the “man as prey” concept is both a powerful and central theme for both.

In the last few years vampires have been all the rage and, while I was excited to find out Lastrapes would be trying his hand at the vampire genre, I couldn't help but think, "Aren’t there already too many fanged demons already?!” Lastrapes displayed masterful craftsmanship in Inside the Outside, so my concerns weren't about his writing or storytelling ability.

The Painter's Last Stroke by Nico Whittaker

I just worried that it might be difficult—if not impossible—for him to write a story capable of distinguishing itself amongst the over-saturated world of vampire literature.

These were the thoughts that went through my mind as I prepared to read Lastrapes' two Vampire Shorts, “Adam & Olivia” and “Jesus the Mexican Vampire Hunter,” which, respectively, will be the first two chapters of his forthcoming novel: The Vampire, the Hunter, and the Girl. I am very happy to report that, upon reading the Vampire Shorts, all of my doubts and fears faded away.

In “Adam & Olivia” and “Jesus the Mexican Vampire Hunter,” I found the same compelling writing I was so enthusiastic about in Inside the Outside; that intensive style that brings the reader into what's going on in a highly sensorial level. I also found and enjoyed Lastrapes' distinct ability for building and developing characters, which was a strong trait of Inside the Outside.

Between the two shorts, we meet the three main characters: Adam, Olivia, and Jesus. In "Adam & Olivia," we meet a vampire on the prowl and the girl who has no idea she is being hunted; in "Jesus the Mexican Vampire Hunter," we meet a young man named Jesus, who is one of the few people that not only knows vampires exist, but has dedicated his life to hunting and killing them.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Lastrapes' Vampire Shorts is they can be regarded as a diptych. Traditionally, a diptych is two different paintings tied to one another to tell a complete story. In this way, I think “Adam & Olivia” and “Jesus the Mexican Vampire Hunter” are a very interesting experiment in and of themselves.

Their very nature demands a multi-faceted approach from readers. Individually, both stories effectively stand alone, each with an engaging narrative and strong character development. Together, however, these Vampire Shorts conspire to tell an even richer story, which leaves me all the more excited for the publication of the completed novel.

Check out all of Mauro Corso's articles in this series: 


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.

Manifest: A Computer and a Story (GUEST POST)

Will Entrekin is an author and publisher who I've known for about a year now. I consider him a both a friend and ally in the publishing world, which is why I signed on with his publishing company, Exciting Press, in April of 2012. Will and I spoke on the phone recently and much of our conversation was dominated by talk of writing and publishing. Since you couldn't be there, I asked Will if he'd write a guest post for me; and, like the mensch that he is, he delivered in spades. So, for your reading pleasure, I present to you...

Manifest: A Computer and a Story

By Will Entrekin

Back when I first started writing, two decades ago now, books and publishing were simple. There was really only one path for authors to take if they hoped that their work might actually find readers: agents to editors at publishers to buyers for bookstores to shelves to readers. It was a process that had developed over decades, and arguably reached its culmination with the heyday of Barnes & Noble in the 80s. Ironically, around the time I began to write.

Back then, it was pretty much the only way. “Pretty much” because there was one other option, one other way to make a book. It wasn’t really much of one: an author could enlist publishing services. Sometimes reputable, mostly not, there was little more involved than printing, often resulting in multiple cases of books moldering in their own authors’ garages and basements, mainly because bookstore buyers never purchased those book for their shelves, one reason among many those sorts of services earned not-so-good reputations.

Twenty years later, that’s no longer the case. Thank goodness.

It took a long time for that system to take hold, but in less than five years, a new one not only emerged but nearly singlehandedly dominated the old system.

I’m speaking, of course, of Kindle.

Kindle didn’t exist when I realized I needed to go to grad school to become a better writer, and because it didn’t, Amazon wasn’t part of our discussion when we studied the literary marketplace and how publishing worked. The first Kindle was announced the year I graduated, but wasn’t perfected for another two generations. Now, it’s almost two years perfected, and it’s the single largest reason authors are now able to not only subsist, but thrive.

It’s also the reason I was able to find Martin’s work, though not the reason I’m happiest to work with him, which is: Martin’s a great fucking writer.

I discovered Martin through his manifestowhich is something that anyone who hopes to succeed in this great time of writing and reading flux requires. It’s about vision and articulation, drive and direction, all in one go. Manifesto is a cool word, as it includes “manifest.” We writers manifest. We make reality. We are the tellers of tales, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

Mainly because of Kindle, but also because of tablets and the Internet and digital distribution, authors’ options are no longer binary. We no longer need agents and bookstore buyers, nor printing presses and garages. All we need is a computer and a story, but knowing what to do with what we’ve got requires some savvy, some willingness to take things on ourselves. Which is why it helps to work with others.

Late last year, I founded Exciting Press. As a publisher, however, we aim to be less middleman than partner. Frictionless. Good authors generally have vision, and all I’ve wanted is to help authors manifest that vision.

I knew Martin had vision when I read Inside the Outside. There’s a sense of vision in the novel, a sense the author knows what he’s doing, word by word, page by page. From exciting opening to inevitable conclusion. Great novels convey some sense that their authors know far more about those novels’ worlds than are contained by its pages. There’s a sense of bigness about them, a sense that the story of that novel is one among many occurring in that world. A sense of other stories.

Like “Footsteps.”

Set in the same storyverse as Inside the Outside, "Footsteps" shares a character in common, but moreso, it shares the same vision. It serves less to extend the story than it does to simply give readers a slightly wider glimpse of the world.

As authors, I’m not sure we can hope to accomplish much more.

Besides, of course, reaching more readers.

That’s always a hope, and I think one of the greatest reasons to work together. It’s something I hope for from Exciting Press, that we authors can work together to build influence, reputation, and readership, that a publishing company can be more than simply the sum of its authors and books.

My vision for Exciting Press might be summed up by two popular aphorisms: “You can tell a lot about people by the company they keep” and “You will know me by my work.”

I’m happy to have Martin’s vision coincide with my own going forward, producing quality books and stories, and hoping all the while they find and excite readers who enjoy them.

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.”