An Interview of Kaitlin Tremblay, author of “More”in We Shall Be Monsters
By Derek Newman-Stille
Q: Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself?
Tremblay:I’m a narrative designer and writer in video games, currently working at Ubisoft Toronto. I’ve worked in indie video games for the past 5 or 6 years now, and used to also work in the publishing industry as an editor. I’m obsessed with how we can use interactivity to tell stories and to leverage certain storytelling opportunities within video games, but I’m also deeply engaged in how people talk about and share stories about pain and difficult emotions. I’ve done a lot of work with and around mental health in video game communities, and using storytelling as a healing practice is a major force in my work. I also love horror, true crime, cults — anything that explores how we, as humans, respond to pain and trauma and what can draw us toward extreme beliefs or extreme ways of dealing with this pain.
Q: What got you interested in writing about Frankenstein?
Tremblay:I was chatting with my partner about my favourite monster (I was planning a monster-themed tattoo), and it was actually my partner who was like “The only monster I ever hear you talk about in any loving way that isn’tGodzilla is Frankenstein.” And from there I just kind of realized that Frankenstein has always been this really important motif and monster in my life, particularly around how I think about and lay claim to my body after traumatic experiences. I’ve written body-focused horror before, but it wasn’t until I saw Frankenstein as this driving motivator of that symbolism for me that it really clicked and I was able to write “More” in a way that felt really emblematic of my actual experience with my body and recovery through intimacy.
Q: When did you first encounter Frankenstein?
Tremblay:I was young, still in grade school! I was a voracious reader (weren’t we all?) and I loved horror so deeply. I spent a lot of time watching horror movies with my mom growing up, and then that dovetailed into a love of reading horror. I don’t think I really got Frankenstein at first, admittedly, but it stuck with me in a way few other monsters at the time did.
Q: What does Frankenstein mean for you personally?
Tremblay:Oh wow, Frankenstein means a ton to me personally. Frankenstein has this monster that was forced to inhabit a body that was traumatized through somebody else’s arrogance, and I feel that. A lot of the work I’ve done in therapy has been to recover a strong sense of identity after the fracturing that occurs from abuse (and gaslighting specifically), and Frankenstein’s pastiche body really connected to this idea of my broken and fragmented identity that I needed to find a way to stitch back together — but with my own hand, and not from somebody else’s. For me, Frankenstein is both sides of that: inhabiting a body that has had trauma and harm done against it from somebody else’s selfishness and also a person navigating stitching these fragmented and disjointed pieces together in an identity that I can own and be proud of.
Q: How does Frankenstein relate to the identities you occupy?
Tremblay:I’ve always kind of talked about how identity is so influenced by everyone around us. I’m very much a patchwork of parts of my mom, my brothers, my friends from growing up, my friends from now, my current partner, my teachers, my baseball coaches, writers that have influenced me, movies that have shaped me, songs that I’ve listened to on repeat for years. Like, our identities are so shaped by every person who has made an impression on our life, that identities are these very like sewn-together things made up of different parts of different people, in one way or another. Another analogy I use is an elastic ball. An elastic ball is different and discrete from the elastics that make it up, but the elastics all come from different things, different places. Frankenstein is kind of the same for me. My identity is me, fully to the core, but there are bits of the people who have had a significant impact on me in there, as well.
After answering all of this, I realize you might have meant my identities, like being queer and being a person with mental illness, but for me Frankenstein isn’t very emblematic of any of them separately, but instead is representative of the ways all my different experiences have stitched together to create this human who is a ball of anxiety and enthusiasm and hope and anger, with a burning desire to support others around me and also to push the work I do to be the most authentically “me” it can be.
Q: What suggested the idea of body image when you thought about a story for the We Shall Be Monsters anthology?
Tremblay:This idea of dismemberment and sewing new body parts back together to create a newer version of my body has always been a really strong motif in my writing. My first text-based game Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Beforeis that exactly: you help the protagonist dismember herself and then create a new body from new body parts. And this has always been intimately associated with body image and eating disorders and self-harm in my writing. So when I saw the call for We Shall Be Monsters, it was the first thing that clicked for me: my writing is already so Frankenstein, that it seemed like such a natural fit. But Frankenstein is, in many ways, the opposite of dismemberment, and I’m just as interested in how we attempt to repair our bodies after pain, as I am in the damage we do to ourselves as a symptom of pain.
Q: What inspired you to connect the idea of Dr. Frankenstein’s creature with the image of the paper doll and cut outs from magazines?
Tremblay:They’re so similar for me! Both are composites constructed by somebody else, divorced from their original intent. A symptom of abuse, for me, is feeling very divorced from your own identity and understanding of yourself. It’s this feeling of estrangement and uncomfortableness and reconstruction outside of your control. With Frankenstein, the pain and hurt is very up front, but with paper dolls and cut outs from magazines the pain is less overt, but there is a greater connection with societal ideals of what femme bodies should look like and the pain we’re supposed to undergo to create these bodies. Together the two images (Frankenstein and magazine cut outs) comprise the messiness of body issues for me. But I wanted to re-contextualize all of that under the umbrella of self-authorship and consent, which is why I titled the story “More”: the protagonist is the one dictating what happens, under their own terms, for their own needs.
Q: The image of the bra is a strong one in your story. What inspired you to explore the bra as an image of vivisection?
Tremblay:Bras are these things that I hate. I have a lot of body dysmorphia, that comes from my eating disorder and from abuse, and on top of that, bras have never fit me well. I also have a lot of disdain for my own tits and they feel like this part of my body that is constantly sexualized, or implies more of a feminine gender identity than I fully inhabit, and they’re just this source of frustration and anger and pain but also love and intimacy because they’re more than just a part of my body I have complex feelings on, they’re a part of my body and myshape and how I understand my appearance in terms of clothes and aesthetic. Anyways, the bra imagery in the story was meant to encapsulate this tension and frustration but wanting to love this part of the protagonist’s body that they’re just unsure of and that is a source of both pain and love.
Q: Art features strongly in your story, especially anatomical art. What inspired your interest in art for this story?
Tremblay:Art has always been an imagery vein I’ve tapped in my writing, probably from having studied art and art history so heavily in school. I studied art in and out of school up until I was in my mid-twenties, so I think it’s just a natural source I tap for when trying to communicate emotions and states. I’m also fascinated by human anatomy, and the clinical aspect of anatomy. Anatomy even as a term is so divorced from our experience of our own bodies, that it’s a form of detachment, which is a counterpoint to the emotional weight put into the bodies in the stories otherwise.
Q: Biting features strongly in your tale, connecting body change and kink culture. What inspired the focus on biting as transformation in this tale?
Tremblay:Biting is tied to the idea of consumption and consuming, and the pain associated with consumption when you have an eating disorder. The protagonist doesn’t consume thoughtlessly (their date eats easily, but they don’t). And part of my sexuality in reality is refocusing pain done to my body. So if I ask a partner to inflict pain, whether through impact play, breath play, or whatever, it’s to help restructure the relationship between pain done to my body by another through love from pain done to my body from myself through self-loathing or depression. It’s the sites of self-harm focused through a new lens of love, consent, and desire. And since my eating disorder was a big motivator of self-harm for me, having the pain done to the body through biting was a nice way to kind of circle and contain all of those complex emotions and growth.
Q: Pain features heavily in your story. Can you tell us a little bit about that connection between pain and bodily change?
Tremblay:Bodily change was always such a source of pain for me (gaining weight, hitting growth spurts, etc.) because it always fuelled negative emotions and my disorder. Part of the eating disorder recovery process for me has been to learn to think differently about bodily change, not as a failure on my part to keep my body the way I thought it should look, but to embrace bodily change and growth as positive, as not as failure, but as success of loving myself and seeing myself as worthy enough of self-care. So there’s bad pain (the bra, psychological pain associated with clothes) and then there’s good pain (the physical intimacy and the consensual pain from a partner). Pain is where growth comes from, but it’s about consensual pain and allowing pain to exist only for so long as it is helping us heal, not furthering a hurt.
Q: What is the role of the monster in our society? Why do we find ourselves creating monsters to express our ideas?
Tremblay:Monsters are the parts of ourselves, the parts that society deems “unnatural” or “unwelcomed”, and there are so many of us who don’t belong, or feel like we don’t belong at certain times, that monsters are such a natural expression of that feeling. Monsters are outcasts, but they’re really just a lens to view identities that society doesn’t know how to deal with — or doesn’t want to. We all feel a little monstrous at times, and creating monsters in our art allows us to shape that story, take control of our feeling of otherness and recenter it, refocus it, wield to our own end.
Q: You recently co-edited Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories. What is it about the monster that keeps drawing you back and getting you excited to share tales of the things that go bump in the night?
Tremblay:Monsters have always been a love of mine because they’ve always kind of formed my relationship to my body and to how I feel my identity kind of fits in society. For me monsters reflect back the parts of myself that society deems gross, or abject, and monsters are a reclamation of this abjection in an empowering way. Hitting puberty at the age of 10 brought a lot of unwelcomed and uncomfortable attention to my body, just not in a sexual way, but as an object of grossness (bleeding through my shorts on my period, sweating through my shirts, having darker armpits, etc.), and so monsters were always this safe haven of not having to be perfect, not having to be lithe and beautiful, but being allowed to revel in my body for what it actually was. I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of the stories I want to tell with monsters, since I don’t think I can unravel monsters from my identity.
Q: What do you hope your story will inspire from your readers?
Tremblay:A willingness to be vulnerable and honest about pain and what the strength to understand that they can demand what they need for their own healing.
Q: To conclude our interview, can you tell readers where they can find out about your other projects or hear what you are up to?
Tremblay:Twitter is the best place to keep up with all my shenanigans (@kait_zilla), and also my full portfolio can be found on my website (http://thatmonstergames.com)