No century-old monsters to discuss today, I’m afraid; I’m a little behind in my Universal movie watch. Instead, we’re gonna do a guest blog! Guest blogs are the best because, frankly, I don’t have to do all that much work; also, this one is about NEW DARK FANTASY NOVELS. Victorian goth fantasy, even. Basically, it’s a win for everyone.
The current pandemic has disrupted, well, pretty much everything right now. Rather obviously, Covid-19 takes priority, as it should; unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any easier on debut authors whose books have just come out. Which is one of the reasons I invited my friend, Jonathan Fortin, to come on my blog and talk about what inspired his debut novel: Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus, which just recently came out from Crystal Lake Publishing. If you’re looking to read something new and/or support debut SF/F/H authors, then feast your eyes on this absolutely gorgeous cover art by Ben Baldwin and continue on to learn all about Lilitu.
BEHIND THE SCENES OF “LILITU: THE MEMOIRS OF A SUCCUBUS”
I’ve always felt that succubi and incubi take everything that’s scary and sexy about vampires, and amplify it. They’re beautiful demons that prey on humans, but they have some pretty cool traits that vampires don’t. For one thing, they can enter and manipulate dreams. For another, they often have wings, horns, or tails. But the biggest difference is that, while vampires are often figuratively about sex, succubi and incubi are far more literal–actually drawing sustenance through sexual energy.
Maybe that’s why there haven’t been too many serious books focused on succubi. There are certainly a few, but more often than not, succubi remain side characters–usually femme fatale sex symbols that exist primarily for the male gaze. It’s also pretty rare for books to portray succubi as folklore does. For example, rarely do succubus protagonists enter dreams, or have wings or horns.
With that in mind, there were a few main goals I had in mind while working on LILITU: THE MEMOIRS OF A SUCCUBUS:
To write a succubus-centric novel that wasn’t male-gazey.
To have it take the folklore of succubi and incubi seriously.
3. To use that folklore to explore gender issues in an exciting horror/dark fantasy tale.
I felt that a proper succubus book needed to address gender issues because of society’s double standards about female sexuality. Indeed, sometimes when men feel threatened by a woman, they will call her a succubus, literally demonizing her–particularly if the woman in question is sexually liberated, dominant, or just won’t submit to male authority.
From this idea emerged the character of Maraina Blackwood–a mortal woman, raised to believe that she must submit to the patriarchy, who ends up becoming a heroic succubus fighting to smash it. Maraina’s arc is all about exploring the ideas that are drilled into our heads growing up, and recognizing how toxic they are. She deconstructs the femme fatale archetype by being a noble seductress. Similarly, the villain of the book, the cruel incubus Salem Sotirios, is a condemnation of toxic patriarchy, as well as of “abusive-but-sexy” Byronic love interests like Edward Cullen or Christian Grey.
Once I had this concept, I ended up setting the book in Victorian England. Part of this was because I wanted to give the book a pervasive Gothic Horror aesthetic; this way, my succubi could wear corsets, my incubi could wear top hats, and they all could frolic around in dark, crumbling castles. As an enthusiast of Victorian Gothic Fashion, that sounded just dandy to me.
More importantly, though, the Victorians had infamously rigid gender roles and severe sexual repression. It was a perfectly horrible society for Maraina to grow up in, making her all the more of a sympathetic rebel.
From there, I considered the rules of succubi and incubi, and adjusted them to fit the narrative I wanted to tell. “Succubi and Incubi” was too mouthy to repeat over and over, so I settled on naming the species as a whole “Lilitu.” Different lilitu bloodlines would have different traits–some would have horns while others wouldn’t, some would shift gender, etc.–but in all cases, they would be able to enter and manipulate dreams.
Another factor was the fact that succubi are supposed to be exceptionally beautiful. I didn’t want to support the idea that there’s one valid form of beauty, so I ensured that we meet succubi of all body types throughout the book. I also decided to deconstruct this facet of the mythology by exploring how society demands that we look and act a certain way based on our sex, and the dysmorphia we can feel as a result.
LILITU is dark fantasy, so it’s got plenty of fun, magical bits: flaming swords, sexy demons, and blood rituals, to name a few. But at its core, it’s attempting to explore very real issues, and many of its most unsettling moments are based on the factual truth of Victorian life. Unfortunately, in our modern world, many of these issues remain uncomfortably relevant. The main takeaway from LILITU is this: all demons do is draw attention to the horror that was already there.
ABOUT THE BOOK: England, 1876. Twenty-year-old Maraina Blackwood has always struggled to adhere to the restrictive standards of Victorian society, denying the courage and desire that burn within her soul. But after a terrifying supernatural encounter, Maraina’s instincts compel her to action.
Maraina soon discovers a plot to unleash a new world—one of demonic aristocrats, bloody rituals, and nightmarish monsters. Putting her upbringing aside, Maraina vows to fight the dark forces assuming control of England. But as her world transforms, Maraina finds that she too must transform…and what she becomes will bring out all that she once buried.
Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus is the first chapter in an epic dark fantasy saga, proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.
PLACES YOU CAN BUY: Amazon
(Or if you want to support small business, check to see if your local bookstore can order the novel and ship it directly to you.)
ABOUT JONATHAN: Jonathan Fortin is the author of “Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus” (Crystal Lake Publishing), “Requiem In Frost” (Horroraddicts.net), and “Nightmarescape” (Mocha Memoirs Press). An unashamed lover of spooky Gothic stories, Jonathan was named the Next Great Horror Writer in 2017 by HorrorAddicts.net. He attended the Clarion Writing Program in 2012, one year after graduating summa cum laude from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing program. When not writing, Jonathan enjoys voice acting, dressing like a Victorian vampire, and indulging in all things odd and macabre in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow him online at www.jonathanfortin.com or on Twitter @Jonathan_Fortin.