Sara Amundson needs monsters. Lots of monsters, and the weirder the better. Her "Make a Monster Project" is a call for monster ideas, which she turns into flash fiction, reads aloud in a video series, and possibly includes in her Dreamer urban fantasy novels.
Amundson is an unpublished writer, currently looking for a publisher or agent. The first chapter of Dreamer won the Pacific Northwest Writers Association 2013 Literary Contest, and since then she's been working to complete it and break into traditional publishing. She told me the PNWA conference was a huge learning experience for her. "I came away from the conference with the realization that I needed to build a following if I wanted any chance of succeeding as a writer. And that was the day Make a Monster was born."
It was Make a Monster that caught my attention — Amundson was on Twitter asking for "monster parents," and the flash fiction she's creating out of these ideas is completely bonkers, gory horror-comedy in which over-the-top creatures devour human victims in brutal yet hilarious ways. Her YouTube readings of the stories (sometimes as her psychotic alter ego, the Murdercorn) are no less horrific/delightful.
Here's an excerpt from a recent story about a popcorn monster:
It was made of a billion individual pieces of popcorn densely packed together. Each piece had a pair of orange eyes that burned with hatred. Sara had eaten a lot of popcorn in her lifetime, and the popcorn wanted vengeance.
The monster hopped down off the counter, and its feet made a crunch when they hit the floor.
The pieces wreaking havoc in Sara's mouth abruptly relented, letting go of her torn flesh and scurrying to meet their master. She spat out blood, swaying, struggling to understand what was happening. The popcorn in her bra used their tiny arms to tear escape holes in her dress and clambered down her body.
Here, Amundson describes a rainbow monster assaulting a church bake sale:
Across the room, Pearl plucked up one of her glass-covered brownies and crammed it into her mouth, chewing eagerly. She smiled beatifically, blood dripping down her chin. "Jush like Mom ushed to make!" Her mangled tongue slurred the words to mush.
The rainbow pumped out another glittery wave of LSD. A frail old woman who'd been selling peanut brittle as ancient as she was stripped off her dress. She stretched her arms above her head and gyrated her wrinkled, stick-thin body as if she were hula-hooping. "I'm going to win the contest!" she whooped. "I'm going to be the bunny queen, you cocksuckers, you just wait and see!"
Amundson explained Make a Monster to me, as well as Dreamer and the struggles of an up-and-coming author dealing with the age-old catch-22 that "you need an audience to be successful, to be successful you need an audience."
io9: Can you explain what Make a Monster is all about? These are standalone flash pieces, but the monster ideas tie in to another series as well?
Sara Amundson: Make a Monster's concept is pretty simple: People request monsters. I write flash fiction about their monsters killing people. If I pick their monsters for a story, they get credit on my website as Monster Parents. And if their monsters end up in a Dreamer book, they'll get Monster Parent credits in the novel's acknowledgments as well.
But Make a Monster's purpose is huge. It's directly tied into Dreamer, my urban fantasy trilogy, which is set in a world populated by monsters that are all unique in form. As an aspiring author, I have two significant challenges ahead of me. 1) I have to fill three books with monsters that are all entirely different. 2) I need to build a following for my writing. Whether you traditionally publish or self-publish, a readership doesn't magically appear the day your book is released. That's something you have to develop yourself, and it takes time and a lot of work.
Tell us more about the Dreamer trilogy.
Amundson: The Dreamer universe is a dangerous place, where terrible beings can appear at any time, transported into the world of humans by magic gone haywire: jabberwockies. Shaped in dreams, every jabberwocky is different, and every jabberwocky is lethal. Some are hideous. Some are absurd: monsters made of birthday cake, bloodthirsty boob-beasts, and evil rainbows.
The only thing that's stopped the human race from becoming jabber-chow are Dreamers: specialized hunters with a psychic connection to jabberwockies. Morgan Miserie is a Dreamer, just like her dad was. Working at the hunting firm he founded, she has enthusiastically hunted jabberwockies throughout the Pacific Northwest her entire adult life.
When Morgan embarks on a mission to find the jabber she blames for her father's tragic death, that enthusiasm veers into dark obsession. Secretly, she begins abusing a Dreamer drug to enhance her powers. She vows she'll stop if her experimentations interfere with her job as a hunter. As the drug starts changing her body, her secret grows harder to hide, and her promise harder to keep.
Your video readings of the Make a Monster pieces are so fun, and I noticed you have all these little gestures and voices for different characters. Is all that there in your head when you write them, or does that just emerge when you do the readings?
Amundson: I try to write each Make a Monster story in the voice of its victim. Now that I've started doing the Make a Monster videos, I've been completely surprised by the new dimensions of voice that instinctively come out when I read aloud. I didn't know I had that in me!
I usually practice reading them aloud a few times before making a video, but the voices and the rhythms and the gestures are all right there the very first time I read one. I am, apparently, largely made of ham.
What's a Murdercorn? How did you become The Murdercorn?
Amundson: I focus all of my social media efforts on Twitter — and have a buttload of fun doing it. The Murdercorn came into existence the same way several monsters have: Twitter buffoonery.
I'm well known for my passionate love of both unicorns and bloodshed. Joking around on Twitter resulted in the greatest Halloween costume idea ever: a unicorn that murders people. Once I started building the murder-y unicorn costume, it became clear that I'd really just discovered my true nature. It's no costume. I am The Motherfucking Murdercorn.