Mini-Interviews with the 'Tragedy Queens' Authors
Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey & Sylvia Plath is a new anthology coming out from CLASH Books. It is distinctive in that it is filled with predominantly female voices. This is no accident. The book's editor, Leza Cantoral, had the goal from the start of creating an anthology that would represent powerful feminine voices. She chose two muses that had served her well in her own writings for this task. In the spirit of representing female voices, here is Leza herself, telling the story of how this anthology came to be:
When the restored edition of Sylvia Plath's Ariel came out I re-read my favorite poetry collection the way it was originally intended. It created a narrative, not of tragedy but of vibrancy, hope, & new life, ending with the bee poems & the imagery of spring & Christmas roses. This tone was in striking contrast to the collection as it had been arranged by her husband & fellow poet, Ted Hughes. I began to be haunted by the sounds of bees & the smell of honey. New and strange poems exploded out of me. I brainstormed a story about a Sylvia Plath book club that becomes a suicide cult. But something was missing. I was still unsatisfied.
Lana Del Rey is another big muse for me. Her songs, her videos, & her whole persona captivate me. I have written stories inspired by her music videos, such as my story "Saint Jackie" which I wrote after watching "National Anthem" about 20 million times, along with documentaries about Jackie Kennedy. The power of a muse transcends time & space. It is eternal.
—Leza Cantoral, Editor in Chief CLASH Books/clashbooks.com
To celebrate the anthology's release, we posed the authors three questions:
1. Which is your muse, Plath or Lana or both?
2. Who are you? Brief but fun bio.
3. Which Lana song/video or Plath poem/book was your inspiration?
Laura Lee Bahr
2. I keep telling myself I am Laura Lee Bahr: part clown, part mystic, all about it. I work with twice-exceptional kids, I write, I act, I direct, I sing songs, I try to remember that life is just a waking dream/nightmare that I get to play/fight in. I hope I am Rebel Scum.
3. I watched the video for "Shades of Cool" about 100 times and listened to it on loop as I wrote.
1. Both women are inspirational. While different, they both invoke a sadness I find uniquely female.
2. Victoria Dalpe is an artist and writer. She lives with her husband, filmmaker Philip Gelatt Jr. and their young son in Providence, RI. From their attic window they can see H.P. Lovecraft's ancestral home, which is now a Starbucks. Victoria Dalpe loves horror, folklore monsters, and painting skulls all day. Her first novel, Parasite Life, came out January 2018 from ChiZine Publications.
3. "The Death of Mythmaking"
Lisa Marie Basile
1. Lana is my modern muse. She is a gem in an era of squeaky-clean pop and perfect production. She is dark and moody and lingering and unapologetic. But Sylvia—she is a forever muse. She is our sisterkin, our poetic ancestor, of sorts. She's the Supreme Witch.
2. I'm Lisa Marie Basile, living in New York City. I'm an editor by day. I write poetry and essays and I make magic. I am working on a nonfiction book, a no-bullshit grimoire, Light Magic for Dark Times (Quarto, 2018) and a novella for Clash Books. I'm a dreamer, a chronic Scorpio, a swimmer, and a witch. I am also the founding editor of Luna Luna Magazine, which is a digital coven of light and dark. I'm the most put-together fucking mess you'll ever meet.
3. I think, for this anthology, I really leaned into Lana's Ultraviolence era. It's moody and heavy and dark and all about the male gaze and obsession with one's own sadness. That hunger to be wanted, to be seen, to be loved, to feel, to experience LOUDLY—it's all part of the engine of life. I wanted to say it all.
1. Plath, easily. I only recently got into Lana within the past two years or so, but Plath has been with me since I started getting into poetry in high school. Ariel changed my life.
2. I’m a bibliophile who spends her free time in bookstores, libraries, and tracking down rare copies of Alice in Wonderland. I’m addicted to coffee, but I drink tea at night, and I love to be surrounded by plants, crystals, driftwood, and candles. I love to travel, I bring up inappropriate facts in social circles, and my dog, Apollo, is attached to my hip 99.9% of the time.
3. My short story, "Because of Their Different Deaths," is one of sisterhood and witchcraft, and it stemmed from a note in one of Plath's journals: "You are twenty. You are not dead, although you were dead. The girl who died. And was resurrected. Children. Witches. Magic. Symbols. Remember the illogic of fantasy. …How many futures—(how many different deaths I can die?) How am I a child? An Adult? A woman? My fears, my loves, my lusts—vague, nebulous. And yet, think, think, think—and keep this of tonight, this holy, miraculous resuscitation of the creative integrating blind optimism which was dead, frozen, gone quite away.”
2. I'm a writer, artist, and the most Type A free spirit you will ever meet. When I'm not writing copy for The Man, I'm writing books, staging photo shoots, making small films, and getting my hands messy dabbling in various visual art forms. I recently made a stained glass sculpture for the first time ever, thanks to a class given by Kelsie McNair at UrbanGlass in Brooklyn. (Also thanks to a kick-ass scholarship. Donate to nonprofits, folks. They really do make a difference in people's lives.) The class was scary but fun, in large part because I'd never worked with glass or lead before. But it was worth trying something new, per usual. Taking risks is what allowed me to start Quail Bell Magazine. It's what got my first full-length poetry and photo book—Water for the Cactus Woman—accepted by Spuyten Duyvil Publishing in New York. It's the very reason I got to be the artist-in-residence at Annmarie Sculpture Garden, a Smithsonian affiliate, in Maryland last summer and why I will be a visiting artist at Laberinto Projects in El Salvador this summer. It's the reason my work has appeared in the New York Transit Museum, the Queens Museum, the Poe Museum, the Ground Zero Hurricane Katrina Museum, and beyond. Let's all take risks! Let's be Plath and Lana at once.
3. Lana's "Summertime Sadness," specifically the line Cruising down the coast goin' 'bout 99.
2. Ashley Inguanta is a writer and artist who learned how to time travel this year, but she can only go from years 1400-2018. She lives in Florida most of the time, and recently she became friends with a librarian herbalist who is teaching her how to appreciate the swamplands. She is the author of The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press 2013), For the Woman Alone (Ampersand Books 2014), and Bomb (Ampersand Books, 2016). She is currently showing and working on several Poetry Room installations.
3. Lana Song: "High by the Beach"
Plath Poem: "Wintering"
1. Plath has been an inspiration for me for a longer time. I'm rather new to LDR. I'd only heard of her when some critic blasted her performance of 'Video Games' on Saturday Night Live. During our first big writers' hangout we binged a bunch of LDR videos and I remember being impressed by how expressive her songs are, and the videos were like short films with lavish sets and intense storytelling. But I've been into Sylvia's work for decades—she's always been a huge inspiration for me to fight through trauma and chronic depression, to try and create art from darkness.
2. I work as an academic librarian at a large university. It's a really wonderful day job because I have so much access to research. My workplace is actually adjacent to Prince Street in Boston, where Sylvia was born in 1932. I played in punk and metal bands for a couple of decades, but I've shifted my priorities to writing over the past five years. After a recent health scare, I became even more determined to get my work out there.
3. The prompts for my story "Ritual of Gorgons" are "Edge" by Sylvia Plath and "Born to Die" by Lana Del Rey. They really capture the essence of what I was trying to say when I wrote about those two characters falling in love.
1. Both. Both women are/were fierce af. Plath's work that wasn't toned down by her husband is so profound and breathtaking. She was so angry, and rightfully so. How she expressed herself through poetry will always be an inspiration. Lana is a sultry badass. Her music makes me wanna sexy dance in front of whatever flaming wreckage I leave behind.
2. My name is Tiffany Scandal. I'm an author, editor, podcaster, photographer, and former nude model over at Suicide Girls. I enjoy drinking coffee and playing with pussy (cats) all day long. My hair color changes as often as my mood does. I live in Portland, Oregon.
3. I listened to Lana's Ultraviolence on loop while I wrote the story. Don't know how much of the content influenced the story, but it's a great album to write to.
1. Both! Plath has been my muse since I was fourteen, but Lana is a great soundtrack for life/writing.
2. I'm a writer, tarot reader, and witch from Nova Scotia. When not chanting or buying crystals, I can be found looking for UFOS and window shopping overpriced makeup.
3. "The Lazarus Wife" is a mashup of "Lady Lazarus" by Sylvia Plath and Lana Del Rey's "Ultraviolence".
1. Lana was my muse for this short story but I adore them both. There's a beautiful bitterness to their work that calls to my privileged, sad self.
2. I'm a writer and photographer from Olympia, WA, an MFA candidate at Pacific University, an Evergreen graduate, occasional model and filmmaker and former aspiring forensic anthropologist.
3. Lana's song "Kinda Outta Luck." I took the story she tells and expanded on it to create Lola, a character inspired by my experiences as a model.
1. I'm always inspired by Lana's trash glam musical aesthetic and have been enamored with Plath's bee poems for quite a while now. Everything they do is grotesque, but still very beautiful.
2. I'm a Pocha/Xicana who hails from the Central Valley, "the other California." I live that adjunct English teacher life and have an affinity for the Muppets, Ramón Novarro, red lipstick, Ray Bans and the band, Prayers. My real last name is Gonzalez and I'm an Aries. Moon in Virgo.
3. The song "Sad Girl" was my story inspiration because it's about being hung up on a intense complicated man and I'm a sucker for that kind of doomed love. #cholosbelike
1. Although I have more in common with Sylvia Plath, it's Lana's voice I hear in my dreams.
2. Cara DiGirolamo is currently in recovery from graduate school, where she studied Linguistics, wrote a dissertation incomprehensible to normal humans, and learned to skate.
3. My story was inspired by Lana Del Rey's "This is What Makes Us Girls," which I love, but I wish were gayer.
1. Although I like Lana’s music and her persona very much (Ultraviolence is my favorite album), Plath has been inspiring me since I was twelve years old and picked up The Bell Jar. It spoke to me so much as a floundering adolescent — and it was incredibly funny. I could really relate to Plath’s sardonic wit and her cut-throat observations about the world. I wrote my college honors thesis on Plath’s poetry, and one of the chapters in my Doctoral dissertation is on The Bell Jar, so liking Plath’s work is not just a phase depressed girls go through! She’s smart, funny, fresh, heartbreaking, and culturally astute about her historical moment. Her work is transcendent. We can still learn so much from her.
2. I live in the East Village with my husband and our two rescue pitbulls, and we’re expecting our first kiddo in June! I taught college English for eight years while working on my PhD, and now I work as an Associate Editor at Ravishly as well as freelance. I also volunteer at an animal shelter and enjoy hiking and horseback riding. I love horror movies, true crime, and dark tourism — like visiting places where murders or tragedies have taken place.
3. I was mostly inspired by The Bell Jar. I typically write personal essays, so this was my first attempt at fiction (although I did really study abroad in Italy in the early aughts). I wanted to create a story that, like The Bell Jar, deconstructed typically idealized experiences and put forth commentary on mental health care. Growing up, I suffered from depression, anxiety, and OCD. I wasn’t able to get help until I ended up in a psychiatric hospital in my mid-twenties. I wanted to create a character who is clearly suffering but also ignored — like Esther was in The Bell Jar. It was very important for me to get that voice down.
1. I’d say they both have equal whispering powers; Plath as a melancholy ghost, Lana as a truculent siren who has seen far too much, too soon.
2. I'm a serious writer. Serious. No fun, just work. I'm kidding! As a thirty-something living in Sin City, I overdose on coffee, CrossFit, and fetish origins. Hobbies include pole dancing, mismatched cutlery, and holding up drunk people.
3. I loved The Bell Jar, but boy, did it piss me off! Not Plath, but the culture that turned a blind-eye to struggling female artists who are also mothers. I wrote the story years ago after obsessing about what happens to the children of suicidal parents.
Laura Diaz de Arce
1.Lana definitely, both her oeuvre at the time and iconography.
I am a writer and general malcontent from South Florida. I write for Smoking Mirror Press in between angry letters to my congressmen. You can find me complaining in ALL CAPS on twitter @QuetaAuthor.
3. For Lana, it was "Ride" "Races" "Young and Beautiful" "Born to Die" "Carmen" "Blue Jeans" and "Ultraviolence" that served as chief inspiration, but I also just let her music play while writing.
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