Extra Dimensions & Misplaced Shadows: Maranda & Cee Interview One Another on Creating We Are the Weirdos

When was the last time you read a book by a queer non-binary mad disabled high school dropout and survivor of incarceration on social assistance? Well, We Are the Weirdos might be the first one?!

Although Cee and I both have unreliable internet connections right now, we managed to get together today to interview one another about our work on We Are the Weirdos. We’ve got just a couple days left to reach our goal on IndieGoGo, which you can contribute to here. We’ve intentionally kept the “stuffness” of the rewards minimal – totebags and merchandise are boring, and we live in tiny apartments anyway. Instead, all you get are books! Books for you, books for your local library, books for your friends. You can also have Tarot readings with me, and custom Tarot illustrations with Cee. And! You can read more about the novel here, including details on which Tarot cards I used to help me write the damned thing.

{image description: A photocopy of my Grade Nine school picture, age 13, and my Grade Two school picture, age 7. I’m frowning in both photos. In the Grade Nine photo, I have long, black hair and I’m wearing a Kurt Cobain t-shirt. In my Grade Two photo, I have long dirty blonde hair, wide eyes, and I’m wearing paisley overalls with a purple turtleneck. I’ve written M.E. + M.E. in black ink.}


Cee: This book is about magic – the personal magic that Indigo and Grey (and their mothers) are able to wield and shape, as well as the unexpected and external forces that bend and mold the characters’ lives in wholly unpredictable ways. What role did magic play in the process of writing this novel?

Maranda: Magic is such a daily, moment-to-moment experience for me that it can be tough to suss out which roles magic didn’t play for me. I spent a lot of time reading Tarot cards while I was writing this novel, and using them for making decisions around the process of writing. The cards I drew didn’t interact with the characters or storylines as much as they guided me through making my own personal, creative decisions. For example, two years ago, I took an online writing course with one of my favourite authors, Francesca Lia Block, where I worked on a very messy draft of this novel. It was a big investment for me, not only cash-wise (I scraped the fee together by not-quite-legally AirBnBing my apartment and staying with my then-partner, something I could write an entire novel about on its own) but emotionally and psychically as well… And I waffled on my decision for a bit, reading my cards to see what to do. I didn’t feel I had anyone around who I could ask for advice in that particular situation, but I had my cards.

It was a dream come true to work on fiction with one of my favourite writers, to receive guidance and feedback and care from her, and it was vulnerable to send out drafts of my writing to others in the class, and to provide feedback for their work as well. As I dealt with those feelings (vulnerability that is a good kind of scary), I noticed that sometimes somebody would comment on something in my story not being “believable” when it was something that actually happened to me, and would then note something else in the draft as being “more believable” when it was something I’d just made up. Since believability is a major theme of the novel, and something I struggle with in day-to-day life as an undereducated crazy disabled high school dropout with chronic illness/pain, I thought that was an interesting parallel.

A lot of little coincidences happened to me while I was writing We Are the Weirdos as well. Birchwood Centre for Youth, aka Bitchface, is based on a juvenile detention centre where I was incarcerated multiple times in my early teens. I’ve never named the actual place out loud, though I’m sure many who were or are incarcerated at the ages of sixteen or under in or around the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) would be familiar with it, whether by experience or stories. I remember one day last year, I was walking to the Parkdale Library (where I’m writing this interview from!) to work on the book, and there were two teenage girls walking behind me, discussing the very same detention centre. It felt really eerie, as it’s a place that resides in my mind almost as if not-quite-real. It was the first time in my adult life that I’d heard the place named out loud. They were talking about some friends who were there. This afternoon, while walking to the library, I saw a lone black pointy witch hat sitting on the ground, and nobody was claiming it. A lot of the magic in my life comes in these small moments of just moving through the world, being quiet and observant, noticing these odd symbols and coincidences that arrive, and making my own meanings with them.

{image description: One of Cee’s illustrations! From a chapter called “PUKE.” Black ink on white background. Vomit on a cop’s boots! To the left are a few freezies and a pair of scissors to cut the plastic packages open. To the right are a few roses.}

Although Milthorpe, aka Milcorpse, is a fictional place, it’s obviously based on my hometown of Lindsay, Ontario, which I re-visited several times while writing We Are the Weirdos. Like listening to the music of our youth to return to a particular emotional space, to conjure memories and feelings, I spent a lot of time in Lindsay doing the same. When I write of tangible objects having auras and stories, this is how I feel about physical space, buildings, and land as well. In We Are the Weirdos, there’s a corner downtown where the misfits gather, sometimes misfits among misfits, sitting alongside one another on the same benches but rarely speaking to one another. And I write about these shy, angry queer and trans teens hanging out at the same corner as older teens and twenty-something men who were nazi punks, because that’s how it was in my hometown. I remember stitching an embroidered patch of a crossed-out swastika to my backpack to differentiate myself from them, and I remember the tiny hippie store I bought it from, with my group home allowance, dropped off for the afternoon to keep myself amused and get some fresh air. Well, I went back to that corner this Spring, shortly after the snow melted, and I sat on one of the benches, allowing myself to feel. I took selfies, I took pictures of my feet and the tip of my lavender cane against the cobblestone, I got stared at by passersby the same way I did back then. The red bricks were crumbling. I took a piece for myself and a piece for my twin, who was often by my side at the corner, when we had nowhere else to go, when we walked each other around on heavy metal chains hooked to pet-store dog-collars. Those are the kinds of found objects I like to keep in my pocket for the day and then add to an altar.

I thought about invalidation a lot, especially self-invalidation. All the jokes I’ve made about being a teenage goth, being a cutter, being obsessed with Marilyn Manson, practicing witchcraft. I’m pretty sure I have a zine where I tell a story about my teens and say, “back when I thought I was a witch.” I think I said that as a way of distancing myself from some of the embarrassing and painful memories of my early-teens, but that that’s no longer the kind of distance I need, and I’ve been a witch all along. But anyway, I sat on that corner and had a conversation with my teenage self, showed them that we were still alive. Indigo and Grey are 13 in We Are the Weirdos, and I’m intentionally publishing it at age 31 because the reversed, symmetrical numbers feel meaningful to me.

Also, some of the crystals I got when I was 13, I still have. I have this tiny, pointy clear quartz that was probably the smallest, thus cheapest, one available at the time, and I use it to connect with who I was back then, to remember what it felt like to find witchcraft, which was the only thing I felt could give me any sort of power – it’s so interesting to me that witchcraft is so often considered irrational, fake, immature, embarrassing, when so many of us found it because everything and everywhere else made us feel hopeless and helpless. So I hold onto that object as a 31-year old now, and marvel at the fact of my survival, and of so many of my spells and wishes and dreams coming true despite everything I’ve endured and continue to endure. I keep it with silver sequins that fluttered over the crowd at a Marilyn Manson concert I attended as a grown-up, which was a gift to teenage and adult selves, and other such junk. It feels like time-travel. And I did/do the usual things, working with the Moon, working with Mercury, doing my own inner recovery stuff while working on the novel, much of which led to little revelations in my own life that impacted the way I wrote the novel, and the choices I made, such as finding books whose pages change and warp and fade, letters with no responses to fill in the blanks, a multitude of loose ends, etc…

{image description: Illustrations from my diary last Summer. Black ink on white paper. Multiple renditions of my adult self hanging out with my teenage self, holding onto their metal leash. There are some notes about the joy of being a loner in public, eating messy food, panic, meds, and sensitivity.}

Cee: One thing I really love about this novel is that the characters feel intensely familiar and lifelike yet are always kept an emotional arms’ length from the reader – we rarely know what Grey is thinking, for example, or the breadth of the experiences that have led Caroline to make the parenting decisions she does. How do you balance intimacy and mystery in the development and portrayal of your characters? Did any initial drafts of this book do this differently?

Maranda: It’s interesting that you bring up intimacy, because that’s always been a tough one for me, in reality and fiction alike. I’m reading more self-help about it right now, ha. It’s a word that used to make me cringe, but it doesn’t anymore. It wasn’t until a few days after I finished the final final final draft of We Are the Weirdos that it occurred to me that nowhere in this book do any characters hug one another. Friendship and family are major themes of the novel, yet nobody hugs anybody else. Once this dawned on me, I tried to remember if I had hugged anybody at that age, and what it felt like (I did, but somehow these moments never came back to me while I was creating Indigo). Then, like now, having a flesh-body felt alien and bizarre to me, and if I could have retained consciousness to think and dream and read books, but not have a body, that’s what I would have done. Those kinds of alien-body feelings and lack of physical intimacy are part of why Indigo and Grey connect so deeply to the Mechanical Animals incarnation of Marilyn Manson. At a time when I had almost no language for my feelings of discomfort and disconnection from my physical body and from my gender, that album, and Marilyn Manson’s transformation to the character of the androgynous alien fallen to earth in a strange drug-fuelled Hollywood, heavily influenced by David Bowie, totally captivated me.

To have created characters who feel familiar and real, yet are kept at a distance, was partly my intention (actually, I wasn’t sure about familiarity all along – I was worried about the characters seeming petulant and whiny, which was one reason I began trying to unlearn self-deprecation, so they could move beyond that tone), but partly something else… I think my own experiences with lack of intimacy, and with not feeling embodied with where or who I am a lot of the time, are what led to that kind of distance between my characters, whether it’s in their own friendships, or their distance from the reader. I wonder how much of that was intentional, and how much was inevitable. Intimacy is something I want to write more about (and am actually feeling in real life sometimes!), but with their age and circumstances, it didn’t feel quite possible for Indigo. Mystery, also, was both intentional and inevitable. For a long time, I wanted to know more about Caroline and Madelaine, Indigo’s and Grey’s mothers, and I did have previous drafts that contained more of their pasts, but something about it just didn’t jive, so I scrapped it. I was thinking about how long it took me to even fathom that my mom had a life before I was born, and I wonder how much of this would have occurred to Indigo at 13. There are moments when Indigo wonders about their mom’s past, but they’re not able to learn much, and almost never ask questions directly.

{image description: Another of Cee’s illustrations! From a chapter called “STEAL.” Black ink on white background. In the centre is an unzipped backpack. On the left is a debit machine and on the right is a cash register.}

Another theme in this novel is the incomprehensible scope of what we can’t know about the people around us. We can’t fully grasp their thoughts, their pasts, their internal worlds, or their concepts and perceptions of who we are. With that in mind, I also tried to capture one of the ways trauma impacts memory – to jumble it all up and scatter it, move things out of order, delete entire conversations, for memories to contradict themselves. I’m not sure how much of that comes across the way I want it to in the novel, and how much looks like me, the author, fucking it up a little, but that was one of my intentions. And while doing so, I also chose to refrain almost entirely from using diagnostic language.

Cee: In our process of developing the illustrations for We Are the Weirdos, it was important to you that there be no depictions of the characters (save for one glimpse we get of Indigo’s middle finger!). Instead, the visual emphasis is placed on a multitude of objects. Why did you make this choice? What significance does allowing readers to visualize the characters on their own hold for you? And what called you to make the decisions you did for the chapter headings?

Maranda: Cynically, for a while, I had a tough time imagining something that wouldn’t look cliché. Sometimes the popularity of witchcraft and magical symbols, etc., in recent times felt like a barrier to making the kind of work I’m trying to do, because I was having a tough time watching my traumatic teenagehood be rebranded as cool. I didn’t want to participate in the odd, but understandable, witchcraft nostalgia machine, or for my work to be misconstrued as being related to nostalgia. I questioned whether or not complete the project in its current forms many times, and even considered ridding the story of references to The Craft altogether, because I was actually just getting sick of seeing all those .gifs. Ha. There were all kinds of directions the novel could’ve gone. Obviously I chose to keep The Craft, and keep the title, but I think my readers will be smart and thoughtful enough to ascertain what the novel is really about.

The characters struggle so much with their bodies in this book that the idea of trying to make them visible seemed almost disrespectful. I’ve written a lot about feeling like I am being looked at but not seen – whether that’s through my body or through my work – and the idea of creating images of my characters made me worry that they would somehow feel the same way. Instead, I wanted to capture the world around them, to place emphasis on the importance of what was around them. I also wanted the reader to visualize the story in a multitude of ways. While all the flowers and plants in the novel have magical meanings known for centuries, I rarely elaborate on them. For the chapter headings, I read and re-read the novel and observed what stuck with me the most, what felt important. Sometimes these images were beautiful – I was seeing flowers and swirls and vines and stars – and other times they were what one might consider ugly – vomit on a cop’s boots, a speculum, a windowless van. I want the reader to have their own associations with these objects, their own memories, and to imagine them from Indigo’s point-of-view, too. Which objects feel protective or useful, which objects feel frightening? How come?


Maranda: When I began working on We Are the Weirdos, I wasn’t initially imagining illustrations, but as time went on, I realized that the novel felt very visual to me. I was writing about emotions and powerlessness, the confusions and restrictions upon small town misfits in early adolescence, but it was often objects and tangibility that became important to the characters. Poverty was one reason for this, and magic was another. Back then, and today still, objects have felt to me like they have their own auras, their own stories, and they’ve also served as safety objects, something to keep me grounded and present during uncomfortable times. In your bio, you describe yourself as a scamp and a big kid, and your art as containing curiosity, delight in details, and a disregard for rules. You use words like amateur and play. How would you connect these particular words to your process of creating illustrations for We Are the Weirdos, an experimental novel that also shows that same delight in details and disregard for rules, albeit through text rather than image? Your illustrated work is often non-fiction, depicting meaningful moments in your adult life. How did it feel to use your artistic gifts and skills toward imagining and rendering the lives of fictional teenagers?

Cee: One of the chief joys, and also pains, of working on the illustrations for We Are the Weirdos, was allowing myself to retreat deep into my adolescent consciousness while I worked. I had a very different experience of childhood and teenagerhood than Indigo or Grey, but I felt it necessary to approach getting to know these two characters from the closest place of reference I had. These characters immediately felt very dear to me, and I wanted to be closer to them before I tried to illustrate their world. And I wanted to do that as a kid, not as another adult who claimed to understand them while really not actually getting it. So, I listened to the music I listened to in high school while I began the sketches – a way to warm up and get back into that headspace; really to feel in my body the sensations and emotions that permeated it about 16 years ago. I thought and reflected a lot about what 13 felt like to me while I worked. Once I was inking, I was listening to Grey + Indigo’s (and your!) adolescent favourites – Hole, Marilyn Manson, Garbage, Nirvana, etc. That helped me feel like I was hanging out with them and conspiring with them. So, really, I was playing in my brain, letting myself be a kid again, sometimes a different kind of kid than I really was.

{image description: Another of Cee’s illustrations! From a chapter called “RITUALS.” An open spiral-bound sketchbook with a cassette of Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals atop the pages, and a scribbly circle-A anarchy symbol. There are pens and Sharpie scattered across the pages, and lit tealight candles surrounding the notebook. There are also multiple crystals and a Ouija planchette pointing in multiple directions.}

When I first read the novel, I immediately felt a very deep affection and protectiveness towards Grey. Part of it is that she is a very lovable character in her own right, and part of it is that Indigo’s love and admiration of her is so palpable in your writing. The way Indigo is so astonished by Grey’s drawings, how they’re so impressed with her skill, is so sweet and perfectly conjured for the reader. That way we who had few friends or connections had so much reverence and awe for the love we did get to have, and so much respect and pride for our beloveds. I really wanted to honour the everyday magic of amateur art, of the miracle that a teenage girl’s scribbles in her sketchbook can perform for her best friend. So I tried to draw with the same principles, or lack thereof, that shape a teenager’s art. What was important was creating stuff that was recognizable, that had details that maybe were extraneous and silly and “not realistic” but that showed a love of the tiny hidden things and small magic of the mundane, of the everyday. I think that’s how Grey would draw. Everything having an extra dimension, or a misplaced shadow – because that is how Grey and Indigo’s lives are.

How did this feel? Like an honour. An honour to connect to these two beautiful fictional humans, and an honour to bridge and build something with you. It felt like a collaboration between your and my childhood selves, too, who had never met before this book.

Maranda: You and I have been friends for a long time. Each of us have been witnessing the other as we become more skilled at what we do. We often have conversations about things like imposter syndrome, feeling like our work is misunderstood, having dreams and ambitions that we feel like we’ve earned but are somehow still beyond our reach, etc. You’ve made zines for a long time, you’ve designed tattoos and typography, you keep an illustrated diary that is a wonder to behold, and you’re currently working in graphic memoir. In your wildest dreams, where would you like to see your art? Who do you make art for? What are some further skills you’d like to develop in your practice (be they technical or emotional)?

Cee: Like you, I think, I’d really love to see my work in libraries. I want my art to be free and easily accessed. I make my art as a way to manage feeling so thin-skinned in this very scary world, as a way of arming myself for the battle we are all called to every day. I want people who feel like they are too much, feel too much, want and need too much, to feel contained and held by my work. I want the stories I tell to be felt deeply, and I want the people who read and identify with my writing and drawing to say, ok, I can do this too. They did it and I can do it. I don’t have any formal art training and I really try to talk about that as much as possible. I loved to draw as a kid and as a teen, but I didn’t think I could draw until I was 19 I think. I wasn’t exceptional at art growing up, or if I was, so were lots of people. I want to destroy the narrative of talent. I want the idea that you can only be an artist if you were committed to drawing in the fifth grade to be laughable. Or that you need to study anything institutionally in order to do it well. Fuck that! I’m so bad at photoshop. I’m constantly learning how to do stuff as my paid work has skewed towards the design end of thing (posters, book covers, logos, etc), and I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent asking friends to walk me through something or watching tutorials online or frantically googling how to do a specific thing. My friend, the incredible artist Morgan Sea, was once watching me design a poster in photoshop and had to leave the room because she was so stressed by how few shortcuts I took! She was like, “you’re doing everything the long, hard way!”. So I guess I’d love to learn how to do things the best way and get way better on the technical side of things.

Interviewingly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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