I met Michelle Lane at a horror convention several years ago. While we were standing around at the reception for the Stoker nominees, I asked what she was working on. She told me about this amazing book…which is coming out today from Haverhill House Publishing. I cannot wait to read it.
Michelle R. Lane writes dark speculative fiction about women of color who battle their inner demons while falling in love with monsters. Her work includes elements of fantasy, horror, romance, and occasionally erotica. In January 2015, Michelle graduated with an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Her short fiction appears in the anthologies Dark Holidays, and Terror Politico: A Screaming World in Chaos. She lives in South Central Pennsylvania with her son.
She describes her debut novel, Invisible Chains:
Jacqueline is a young Creole slave in antebellum New Orleans. An unusual stranger who has haunted her dreams since childhood comes to stay as a guest in her master’s house. Soon after his arrival, members of the household die mysteriously and Jacqueline is suspected of murder. Despite her fear of the stranger, Jacqueline befriends him and he helps her escape. While running from the slave catchers, they meet conjurers, a loup-garou, and a traveling circus of supernatural freaks. She relies on ancestral magic to guide her and finds strength to conquer her fears on her journey.
Obviously the real world inspired Invisible Chains. Can you tell us more?
Invisible Chains is a fictionalized slave narrative set in antebellum Louisiana, so yes, real historical accounts of slavery in the United States inspired the book. Initially, I just wanted to write a vampire novel set in New Orleans during this time period, but as my narrator Jacqueline began telling her story, I realized that her story mirrored my own story in many ways. No, I didn’t live in her time or in that place. (But I love the city of New Orleans and think of it as my spiritual home.) I was never a slave. However, I do know what it’s like to be a young woman of color finding her voice and making a place for herself in the world on her own terms.
The horrors of slavery were very real. While I was researching aspects of slavery –- people, places, practices –- I was sometimes shocked by how much I didn’t know. So while I wrote the book, I hoped that I would shed some light on a history that is often overlooked, or at the very least told from the perspective of the people who benefitted from slavery as opposed to the people who suffered through it. The more I learned about the history of slavery in the United States, the more I wanted to share that history with others.
What is your favorite scene in the book?
There’s a pivotal scene in the book where Jacqueline, my narrator, must draw power from a storm and summon loa, or Vodun gods, to enhance her own magic. She draws on the wisdom and strength of female ancestors, as well as another conjurer who is helping her learn more about her magic. Someone she has grown to trust shows his true face to her. She has seen glimpses behind his mask, but he’s never aimed his violence at her. In this scene, she must overcome her fear, the hurt of betrayal, and lack of faith in her own magical abilities to protect herself against this person who wants to possess her at any cost. This scene shows Jacqueline’s strength as a conjurer and as a woman who has survived the violence of slavery. She is the embodiment of Nietzsche’s aphorism: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
What was your writing process like as you wrote the book?
Invisible Chains is the thesis novel I wrote while earning my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. The novel evolved from a short story I had written several years before applying to the program, which had a very different tone and ending. Over the course of three years, two mentors, and several critique partners who provided excellent feedback and encouragement, I stitched together this often unwieldly quilt of a narrative. I’m not a linear writer. I’m a pantser, not a plotter. There were times that I had force myself to sit down and draft a list of scenes that needed to happen in chronological order, but I rarely wrote them that way. Scenes would come to me and I would write them and then figure out where they fit later in revisions.
I absolutely do not recommend writing a first novel like this unless you are very serious about understanding how a novel fits together and learning from your mistakes. I am still learning, but with each revision, each edit, each critique, the narrative and characters became stronger and my confidence grew enough to finish telling the story. I’m proud of the time, energy, and effort I put into this book, but I’m going to approach the writing of my next novel very differently, if I can help it.
I’d also like to mention that I couldn’t have written this book alone in a vacuum. I don’t think I would have finished writing this novel without all of the people who read first, second, and third drafts, who gave me advice and brainstormed ideas with me late at night, who listened to me rant and encouraged me to keep writing when I wanted to quit. Without my mentors, critique partners, friends, and family, I’m not sure I would have had the courage and stamina to keep going.
People often say that writing is a solitary pursuit, but I certainly didn’t write this book alone. Sure, I spent a lot of time alone in front of my computer, but there was always someone there to cheer me on.
What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?
One of the best things to happen so far is that one of my writing heroes — Jewelle Gomez, who wrote one of my all-time favorite vampire novels, The Golda Stories — read my book and agreed to write a blurb for the cover.
When I contacted Jewelle, I knew I was taking a risk. She had no idea who I was and she’s a busy woman. She’s a writer and activist and I was fully prepared for her to simply say no. So when she responded to my message that she’d be happy to read my book, I felt like I had won the lottery. The writer who had written a vampire novel about women of color, who inspired and gave me the courage to write my own story about similar historical events, not only agreed to read my novel, but then liked it to boot. I am beyond honored that she took the time to read my book and give me positive feedback.
What do you have planned next?
I will have a short story in the Monstrous Feminine, an anthology of female horror writers that will be released in October 2019 by Scary Dairy Press, and another story in The Dystopian States of America (A Charity Anthology Benefiting the ACLU Foundation), that will be released November 3, 2019 by Haverhill House Publishing. And I’m hoping to begin work on the sequel to Invisible Chains later this year.
Pick up a copy of Invisible Chains from Amazon: https://amzn.to/2ELIHOp