Lisa Morton’s new novel, NETHERWORLD takes readers back to nineteenth-century Victorian England, where a young widow finds that she has inherited more than her late husband’s property: The Furnavals serve as the ancestral keepers of supernatural portals scattered around the globe. When demonic entities begin crossing over from the Netherworld, Lady Diana realizes that a war is brewing, and she must be the one to confront it.
Morton graciously agreed to answer some questions from THE BIG THRILL:
Your story is rich with details about the fantastic and the gothic, which showed your interest in supernatural fantasy. What is your attraction to the genre?
I’ve always loved the darker side of fantasy—as a child I was hopelessly obsessed with the Universal monster movies. But as an adult, I think one of the things I most enjoy about writing within the genre is the way it can be used to comment obliquely on contemporary or relevant topics. In NETHERWORLD, for instance, I got to use a trip around the globe in search of demonic forces to comment on the Industrial Revolution, imperialism, and gender roles.
Victorian England is a favored setting for much of historical supernatural fiction, I like to think of it as DOWNTOWN ABBEY meets GHOSTBUSTERS. You gave us a lot of details about period, clothing, manners, and costumes and yet you didn’t hesitate from showing us the ugly side of Victorian society with the opium trade, child labor, and rampant poverty. What is it about Victorian England that makes it such a popular setting for American writers?
One of the things I discovered in my non-fiction research on the history of Halloween was how much the American middle class sprang out of the Victorian lifestyle. Many of us probably recognize that culture as a direct ancestor; also, since it was the beginning of technology, it offers all those steampunk style possibilities as well as commenting on the modern world that all that technology led to.
I enjoyed how you embraced the tropes of the genre—demons, spells, inter-world portals, yet made them your own. You also did a great job weaving historical and regional details into the narrative, such as showing us Chinese vampires and Native American demons. Plus that the witch purges of the Dark Ages actually made us more susceptible to evil. What are your guidelines for addressing these tropes and yet not straying too far from them?
Well, as I mentioned above, I love using these elements to sort of slyly comment on other things. The Chinese vampires (or goong-si), for example, are both distinctly different from western vampires and yet instantly recognizable as their distant cousins, so I can suggest that Asian culture may occasionally seem incredibly strange to us westerners, yet if you can look past the surface you realize that it’s not really so different from us after all.
Although you had plenty of horror elements, what caught my attention was the use of satire throughout the narrative, almost like you were lampooning the genre. Was this your intent or was it you just having fun with the story? Nice spoof of Los Angeles by showing that the city was populated by an underground city of lizard people.
Oh, some of that was definitely intentional! I’m a lifelong Los Angeleno who has occasionally made my living as a screenwriter, so I sometimes feel as if I’m surrounded by scaly creatures.
What is on your TBR pile? Which writers do you admire most, and are there any books you keep coming back to?
I love the work of Dennis Etchison. His short story collection THE DARK COUNTRY is probably what really got me interested in writing fiction, and I still come back and re-read some of his stories (especially “The Dog Park” and “The Dead Cop”) from time to time. My next book will be a non-fiction history of ghosts, so right now everything in the TBR stack is ghost-related.
Biggest challenge as a published writer?
At this point I’m fortunate enough to say it’s meeting deadlines! In 2013 I managed to over-commit, and I’m trying to figure out how to avoid that in the future without turning anything down that’s offered to me.
Advice for your fellow writers?
Persist. Even after you start selling, you may have periods when the work dries up again. You just have to trust in your own abilities and keep writing.
What’s next? More Diana Furnaval? Can we expect more Stephen Chappell?
Later this year, I have a book coming out that’s a tie-in to the popular Zombie Apocalypse anthology series edited by Stephen Jones—ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: WASHINGTON DECEASED will be out in June 2014, and describes the fall of the nation’s capitol in a zombie outbreak. In addition to the above-mentioned non-fiction ghost book (which will be out in 2015 from Reaktion Books), there are two more books in the Netherworld series coming out. And I’m glad you mentioned the enigmatic Stephen Chappell, because he’ll play a much bigger role in the next two books.
Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, award-winning prose writer, and Halloween expert whose work was described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening.” A six-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, her most recent books are the novellas SMOG and SUMMER’S END (both published by JournalStone), and the novel MALEDICTION (Evil Jester Press). She lives in North Hollywood, California.
To learn more about Lisa, please visit her website.