This Phobia Friday I am joined by Magen Toole to talk about mind-bending mathematical horror, Captain Kirk and the ghosts that haunt her shower.
1. As a Star Trek fan, tell me who your favourite captain is, your favourite series and why? Has Star Trek inspired you at all as a writer?
My favourite captain is James T. Kirk. I adore The Original Series and the subsequent films, despite the overwhelming cheese factor. I will be the first to concede that Jean-Luc Picard is the better captain by far, while Janeway and Sisko are great in their own rights. Basically, Picard is the kind of captain you would follow into Hell: diplomatic, eloquent, but willing to make the hard call for the greater good. Kirk? Well, I would follow him into the strip club.
Star Trek hasn’t inspired my writing very much, just my very loud and obnoxious fannish tendencies. Those who know me personally know this all too well.
2. Your story in the Phobophobia anthology is about Ymophobia – the fear of contrariety. Whilst reading it, I was reminded of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi – any influence there or were your sources different?
I originally wanted to write something about the fear of mirrors when I received the letter Y, but the alphabet didn’t have that in the cards for me. Instead I ended up using reflections as a way to manifest that fear of contrariety so it worked out, but mirrors were still the real anchor for the story, at least in my mind. I was aware of the similarities to Pi at the time (Aronofsky’s one of my favourite directors as a matter of fact), but it wasn’t really present in my thoughts as I worked through the story.
Elias Paulson is loosely based on, among others, John Nash. At the time I was researching Game Theory and the RAND Corporation, and developing an interest in the mathematical principles of predicting behaviors. I wasted many an afternoon on Adam Curtis documentaries and John Nash interviews on the subject, trying to tease out a clinical use of these principles that still managed to sound vaguely convincing coming from a layman like me. (I guess you could say this is more A Beautiful Mind than Pi.)
3. What do you fear? Tell me about your own phobias.
I suffer from social anxiety, so my phobias tend to be a revolving door of terribly boring and irrational fears. Like having phone conversations with strangers, sending texts to the wrong person or ghosts seeing me naked in the shower, which is my personal favorite. I’m afraid the things that keep me up at night are not that scary.
4. A searching for God but from a materialistic and atheistic perspective drives the story – do you have a working definition of God yourself or were you just interested in exploring the concept in this context?
As an atheist, I can recognize and appreciate the importance of God in peoples’ lives, but I still look at religion through the perspective of the observer. Like all other themes in my stories, I try to take a more clinical approach: It’s a topic to be explored, a thought to be followed to its logical conclusion. Elias is very much the same way in his search. He’s not looking for God for spiritual enlightenment; he’s just trying to be the person to finally understand God, and to prove that he’s not a sell-out. It’s a purely scientific pursuit for him, even if it’s driven by his desire to validate his own sense of worth, which makes it very detached.
On a similar note, I feel we’ve reached a point in the relationship between science and religion that they can’t really ignore each other. If religion can use God to explain the realm of scientific phenomena, then science has the right to put God under the microscope as well, as part of the natural world that it’s striving to understand. I don’t think it’s the role of science to try to prove or disprove God either way, but it’s a topic I find interesting.
5. Control and the need for it is a theme in your story as well as others in Phobophobia - what do you think it is that makes us strive to such extremes just to feel we are in control of our lives?
The need to acquire and maintain power over the circumstances of our lives, be they internal or external pressures, is something built into human beings. We all feel compelled to exert control over others, in some capacity, despite whatever polite, civilized mask we put on to excuse ourselves. As someone who’s felt out-of-control of my own life over the years, due to anxiety, external hardships, and other issues, I think my characters express that more than most. Elias is losing control of his life, his perceptions and his basic understanding of the natural world. That, to me, is very terrifying.
6. Monsters hide in mirrors – are they reflections of us? What do our fears make of us when we look into the polished glass?
While an interesting question, I’m not quite sure how to answer that. As it pertains to the story, the monsters that Elias sees are not so much monstrous as they are unknowable, coming from another plane of existence he doesn’t understand. It’s that fear of the unknown that is the hook of the story, and the source of Elias’ fear, rather than a reflection of some unconscious manifestation of a deeper terror. Elias, I think, struggles with himself far more than he struggles with any monsters he may or may not be seeing.
7. Do you think God and whether He/She/It exists should remain one of the great unsolved equations or that the riddle should be untangled? Would we be able to handle what we found or would we go insane and end up broken by the knowledge?
I tend to think that God is one of those things that will remain a mystery. It’s up to the individual to define his or her relationship with God, should they pursue one. I doubt any individual or group will ever be in the position to prove or disprove the existence of God, because it’s a very subjective matter. It should probably stay that way.
8. Isolation features heavily in your story – do you think that the increasing atomisation of individuals and their relationships to one another in turn leads to a reaching out for something more?
Isolation is a theme I’m very partial to in all of my work. It’s one of the few truly universal experiences that I find people latch onto the most, as it’s something we’re all afraid of but often feel as we move through our lives. Being alone – locked with your own neuroses with no one to take comfort in and nothing to look forward to – is a lot like death as we tend to imagine it. It’s the total stagnation of the self.
As technology and modern conveniences allow us to turn our lives inward, with less need to go out into the world and deal with others to get what we what, that sense of anxiety and malaise is being felt by more people than ever. We all feel a greater void for contact and relationships, but seem to feel less motivated to go out and make them happen. People are stagnating, and that kind of spiritual death is a very frightening prospect.
9. Tell me about one of the other stories in Phobophobia that you enjoyed and why.
I’ve been working my way very slowly through the book since I received my contributor’s copy, but unfortunately life, work and other projects keep distracting me from it. I did very much enjoy U for Uranophobia by Barbie Wilde, though, as I recall.
10. So what does 2012 hold for Magen Toole? Any last words?
I will continue to release my serialized horror novel Flesh Trap until its completion later this year and work on various short stories and horror comic books to be released in summer or fall. This is all while I avoid working on my follow-up novels and play a lot of Sims 3 instead. It looks like I’m going to be busy this year.
Thank you, Magen!
Phobophobia is available at the following links:
Magen Toole’s serial novel Fleshtrap is available at the following link:
Magen Toole’s blog is available here: