Futurefire.net Publishing and the Institute of Classical Studies are currently working on a mixed fiction and nonfiction anthology titled Making Monsters, with a focus on classical monsters in fantasy, horror or science fiction. They have a call for fiction submissions out now with deadline February 28th.
The book will be published in the middle of 2018, and edited by Emma Bridges and Djibril al-Ayad. To celebrate the monsters I have interviewed Djibril al-Ayad about the background for the Making Monsters book, about what makes a monster and what kind of stories he hopes to see in the slush pile. Djibril is also the editor for The Future Fire.
- What inspired you to co-make a book like this? Why is Futurefire.net Publishing behind such a project?
That’s a really interesting question. We’ve thought in the past about co-publishing an anthology with another SF small press, partly to share the costs, but mostly to build on each other’s capabilities for promotion, tap into new audiences, and generally learn from how different people do things that we may have developed into habits for no good reason. This collaboration came about differently, though. After Emma ran a public engagement event at the Institute of Classical Studies in London last year, titled “Why do we need monsters?” (at which FFN co-editor Valeria spoke, among others), we had the idea to combine some of the scholarly but accessible content with fiction on related themes, in a hybrid volume. It makes a lot of sense: from the Institute’s point of view, they were very interested in reception (the use and abuse of ancient texts in later art) and critical responses to classical themes; from our point of view, most of our previous themed anthologies have featured critical afterword from scholars in related fields, responding to the fiction within (as will this one). We also both agreed that we would like the content to reflect our shared values, such as inclusiveness, feminist/queer/multicultural awareness, intelligent and critical approaches to the theme, and of course lots of beautiful writing.
- The book will also contain short stories and poems and you currently have a call out for submissions. What kind of fiction do you hope to see in the slush pile?
Yes, the CFS is open until the end of February, and we’ve received many many wonderful stories so far. Not all what we’re looking for, of course, but you often don’t know that until you read them. I think we’re expecting to see mostly fantasy—the classical monsters theme kind of steers toward that—but I’d also love to see more horror (graphic or gothic), surrealism, fabulism/magical realism on the monstrous themes, etc.
And certainly we want to see more diversity: we’ve tried to be clear with the call that we’re not _only_ looking for Ancient Greek monsters, but perhaps inevitably that mythology nonetheless constitutes about 75% of the content we receive! We’d love to see monsters from other ancient and classical traditions and mythologies, around and beyond the Mediterranean, the Far East, pre-contact Americas, and cultures I haven’t suggested.
Because classical monsters are often transgressive in specific and social ways, I’m especially excited to see stories in which monsters are marginalized women, or at the intersections of queerness, race, disability and any other vectors of oppression. The only thing we ask is that monsters be actual, physical, monsters (hybrids, giants, beasts, etc.), not metaphors for human villains, serial killers, abusers, etc.
- There have been a few books about monsters the last years, like the Fox Spirit Books of Monsters. How will your book relate to all the other monster books?
We certainly didn’t want to compete with the Books of Monsters (although of course there’s room for many monsters to bloom in this field!) —and what we’re doing is obviously quite different. Although we’re interested in a wide range of mythologies, as I said, we’re not aiming for perfect representativeness, or even dreaming of the global coverage that your books achieve. We’re also focusing specifically on mythological monsters: figures or creatures known from ancient stories that sit at the margins of religion and history, in the echoes behind belief and memory. I think we’ll be in dialogue with other approaches to monsters, which is how it should be. I already very much enjoy seeing the occasional overlaps in names between for example FFN and Fox Spirit (and of course other presses’!) anthologies; not because it’s a small world—although sometimes it is—but because it’s nice to see old friends do well, and even nicer to have confirmation that some of your colleagues have similar tastes to yours. Shows that we’re all doing something right, maybe!
- What is a monster in your definition?
A monster as defined by this anthology, in the mythical sense, is a creature that is something in between a human and an animal (that might be a hybrid like a Centaur or Minotaur; a giant animal like a Roc, Dinosaur or Dragon; a Chimera like the Griffin or Hydra…), or as sometimes expressed, between an animal and a god (the immortal monsters, especially deadly).
A monster isn’t just a person who does especially evil things, like a tyrant or a murderer. A monster isn’t necessarily a bad thing: even if generally feared, often hated, monsters may not be any more evil than a natural animal is—say a shark or a bear—and in fact may be hunted for its physical appearance much more often than it attacks humans. But the truly tragic monster of course retains human nature and awareness along with its inhuman form. The mythical curse of Medusa is that she is cursed by having her most prominent feature, her beauty, perverted and turned against her.
- And what is your favourite monster?
It would be very easy to pick Medusa as the best example of such a monster, and I think I’ll be lazy and not try to be clever or surprising here: I like snakes, so she wins there already. (And look at the beautiful lass sat on our cover art there!) She is also one of the deadliest monsters—she only has to look at you to strike you down. Look away or use a mirror? She’s also venomous. Her myth is very typical of the misogynistic Greek gods: she’s cursed for the crime of being so beautiful that a god raped her in another goddess’s temple. Luckily, the misogyny of the very goddess she was a priestess of led to an ironic curse: she was made so ugly that no man could look upon her and live. Well just maybe that was a relief, not a curse! Instead, she becomes the perfect weapon against men who just can’t keep their eyes to themselves.
- Do you think monsters play a role in our societies and cultures?
Clearly they do, because we see them everywhere so much. Probably different roles in different societies though: in the ancient Middle East and Egypt they were closely related to gods (in fact in Egypt it’s probably better to call them gods and not monsters), or to personifications of elements and forces of nature. In Greece and Rome they represented the conflicts between gods (the Establishment) and other, older and savage or upstart and corrupt, immortals; they were inferior to gods as animals are to humans, but still immortal. In some cases they might even be worshipped apotropaically, to ward off harm. In early Christianity they became symbols of Paganism, the old and demonic religion that had to be put down. For the Enlightenment, mythology—monsters and all—was a symbol of the rediscovered wisdom of the ancients. For the Victorians, an excuse to indulge in slightly more decadent and risqué arts under the guise of being learnèd and élite.
And these last are just snapshots and simplifications about north-western Europe; even in other denominations of Christianity the pictures will be very different. In hundreds of other parts of the world, in many different historical periods and cultural/political climates, the story is different again.
In popular culture now we love monsters: not only in the sense that we love to be scared by werewolves or vampires or popstars in make-up, but even more literally: everyone loves dragons and dinosaurs, we give them to our kids, we knit cute Cerberus puppies and Medusa woolly hats. Monsters can be the good guys in cartoons and movies and roleplaying games. So I’m not sure if mythical monsters are still the fearful catharsis and metaphor for “the other” that they are according to mythologists, but they’re certainly everywhere!
When we asked for stories with ancient monsters for the Making Monsters anthology, you know—it might have been harder if we’d asked people to write stories without monsters!
Thanks for joining us, Djibril! Best of luck with the book!
Robin Kaplan, also known as The Gorgonist, has given permission to use her image “The Lonely Gorgon” as the gorgeous cover art for the book.