Welcome! Thanks for participating.
Tell us a little about yourself. Did you always want to be a writer?
VMS: I started writing at the tender age of 6, writing careful cursive prose in the lined exercise books we used for school. I was initially inspired to write after reading a load of black and white comic books from my native Guyana, in South America. I can clearly remember there being a dark comic strip in the newspaper about about a superhero named The Jaguar. It’s pretty much impossible to find now, but here is an article about it. At the time, this was the only superhero of colour I had ever seen. The heavy inks usually bled through the newsprint, staining the other side. At the time, comic books were my main source of entertainment, and I was a voracious reader. I would trot down to the local library with my big sister and rifle through dusty stacks of mismatched comics, some of them dating back to the 40s. I would come back from each trip with a stack of comics and line them off around my bed, reading one each night.
It was when I stumbled upon a 1 page print ad for a new (revised) superhero called the Blue Beetle that I decided to write my own superhero tale. That initial story spun off into a series of 8 stories with a cast of characters and a recurring villain. Once I’d started, I just couldn’t stop.
What made you decide to reimagine fairy tales?
VMS: This was actually a mental exercise at first, as I’d been stuck in the loop re-writing a series of novels for the better part of a decade. I felt I needed a break from my passion project and stumbled across an open call for submissions for a fairytale anthology. Now, this is not the type of story I’d ever considered writing before, but I took it upon myself as a challenge. I had to completely reverse my standard male POV and try to tell some of the oldest, most well-known stories in the world – in a new and different way. If I pulled it off, well then I might just have some skills after all. Mind you, that train of thought took me on the darkest path possible for some of the most innocent tales (at least in their popular, sanitized form – the Grimm Bros tales are another story). I pushed myself to finish the first tale within a few weeks. Then, seeing what I’d written, I had a mild panic attack and chickened out – cleaning up the tale and removing some of the more objectionable content. I reasoned that these fairy tales might be read for children. When the first submission of “Cinders” was sent, it was under the “Good Tales For Bad Children” label. Now, for those of you who’ve read it and are currently clutching your pearls, don’t worry – it actually got rejected. Yep! Dreams shattered. Ego stung. Confidence hit a new all-time low. That’s when I decided that I’d done wrong. I’d been trying to adapt my style of writing for the wrong crowd and the result was about as successful as trying to penetrate a tomato with a grape. I’d compromised my vision to fit the criteria and still gotten rejected for content. The only thing left to do was go back to the original, uncut version. That became “Good Tales For Bad Dreams” and “Cinders” reverted to the gritty story it needed to be.
So far your stories have been about women from fairy tales. Any plans for the men?
VMS: Having written from the male perspective for every story until “Cinders”, I wanted to explore the opposite gender more. Women are fascinating to me. I grew up with sisters and close female friends, but like many men since the first caveman (Oog) accidentally pulled the first cavewoman’s (Boog) hair, I still didn’t understand women. There are so many societal pressures that women have always had to face, throughout history, they’ve been oppressed and liberated and had these roles and expectations cast upon them, created by men without even asking them. I dove into feminist literature and read articles and watched movies starring women and came to the conclusion that those fairytale princesses we all grew up with – nobody really knows what they were thinking. Sure the modern heroines were a little more forthright, like Ariel or Pocahontas or Mulan, but those classics – Snow White & Cinderella & Sleeping Beauty – nada. They’re blank canvases for song & dance routines. So I took the most accessible of them – Cinderella, and started examining her situation. I came up with a modern parallel for the oppressed maid. You’ll have to read “Cinders” to see what that is, but much of the readership found that shocking.
As for the men, I wanted to represent as much of a nuanced perspective as I could, provided that they would be secondary characters. I had to work to make sure that the audience would still respect them, even as the women were the leads. So much of macho culture defines men as weak if they are secondary to the woman in the story. Much of the narrative question becomes “If the woman can do it, then why have the man at all?” This question is not present in men’s fiction, because in those traditional stories, the woman is the prize. For the comic book version – take a look at Lois Lane or Iris West vs. Steve Trevor. The former are girlfriends/wives of Superman and The Flash respectively. They are respectable characters, but possess no skills that make them particularly special compared to the male heroes because their traditional roles are the damsels-in-distress. They are the reward for Superman or The Flash being brave and saving the day. Steve Trevor, being the beau of Wonder Woman has to be a hotshot pilot and an USAF colonel in order for the young male readers to empathize with him if they pick up a Wonder Woman comic. Men are not conditioned to be the one-who-gets-rescued, so it makes it that much harder to reverse the gender roles when writing about a female hero. Remember, the set up of roles goes back to the 50s, though we’ve come a long way in the representation of women since then. Going back to the fairy tales, if you look at the traditional Princes in the tales, they are always the ones with the agency, they are the ones who fight the dragon, rescue the maid, pilot the ship into the octobeast and so on. The princesses, even though they are title characters, are rarely ever the agents of their own destiny.
I wanted to change that. Good Tales For Bad Dreams puts these women in the driver’s seat and still gives men some meaty roles. Some even get rescued.
Your house is on fire and you can only take three items. Assume your loved ones and pets are safe. What would you take?
VMS: I love these “strip your life to the bare essentials and tell us what matters to you” questions. I could say something boring like, oh I’d save my computer, or my books or my bag of salt n vinegar chips or something. So let’s try this instead… what if you just stood outside and watched it all burn? Think about it. All the things that you define as important or worth saving are likely material. If my loved ones are safe, then that’s all that matters.
Plus my writing’s backed up online, thank god.
What do you do for fun when you aren’t writing?
VMS: I love making playlists of new and emerging artists across a wide spread of genres. When I find a track that I like, I will usually promote it on Twitter using the #VeryMuchMusic hashtag. I usually create soundtracks for all of my written work and upload them on Youtube. Pinterest also offers some great visuals for all of my stories, so I’ve created boards for all the Good Tales For Bad Dreams.
V.M. Sawh didn’t always know he was going to be a writer, but from the age of six he’s been putting pen to paper, creating serialized fiction. Hailing from the humid jungles of South America, Sawh crossed oceans to arrive on Canada’s snow-covered shores at age nine. He continued writing, creating serialized fiction year after year until he challenged himself to write a novel. His first trilogy of novels was completed by age sixteen, but despite encouragement from his Writer’s Craft professor, never published, as the publishing industry was as intimidating then as it is today. He continued writing poetry and fiction for the next decade and a half until an open call for fairy-tale submissions changed everything.
V.M. Sawh resides in a small town north of Toronto, with his beloved wife and two cats. He continues to spin fairy tales that will haunt your dreams.
Here are some interesting facts about V.M Sawh:
i) As part of the launch for “Cinders”, I was featured in the January 2014 issue of the Toronto Sun newspaper.
ii) Announced as winner of the Ontario Writer’s Conference Story Starters Contest.
iii) “Cinders” and “Hontas” have made it to #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases List.
iv) “Anastasia” has over 12K reads on Wattpad, Toronto’s free story-sharing website and is currently featured on the Historical Fiction front page.
v) Completed my first trilogy of novels by age 16.
vi) Decided to publish “Cinders” after a face-to-face meeting with Guillermo Del Toro (Director of Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Pacific Rim & Crimson Peak).
Social Media Links:
Website: vmsawh.com (for The Official)
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/VMsawh/ (for The Pretty Pictures)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vmsawh (for The Issue Discussions)
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/VMSawh (for What Readers Think)
Twitter: @VMS_author (for the Random & the Immediate)
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/ (GR3T3L-1 Exclusive)
When they are stranded on the surface of a hostile alien world, two sentient robots H4NS3L-671, the military-minded combat drone, & GR3T3L-1, the advanced surveyor prototype, find themselves with neither memory nor mission. With no resources and no one to count on but each other, the robots must learn to work together in order to endure the brutal landscape, unlock the mystery of their missing memories, and plan their own rescue, all before their power runs out. What they don’t know is that the dangerous planet holds a terrible secret that could ruin their chances of ever escaping alive…
This is “Hansel & Gretel” told like never before. This is “GR3T3L-1.”
Buy GR3T3L-1 on Amazon
As the last of the light faded, and the surface fell into darkness, GR3T3L registered a temperature drop of 12 degrees. Its sensory lights sprang to life automatically cast beams over the sandy ground. Gravity was lighter here, meaning they could cover ground quickly. Still, with the storm looming to the North, GR3T3L knew they were running out of time. An objective analysis of the situation indicated that their chances of finding sufficient cover in time were less than 23%. GR3T3L’s recovering database indicated that throughout human history, there were many examples where humans had persevered when the odds were against them. How did humans do this? GR3T3L cross-referenced the search results with a methodological analysis and came to a single conclusion. Hope. The concept appeared to mean a great deal to humanity. Hope for an end to disease. Hope for an end to suffering. Hope for salvation. GR3T3L paused in its analysis as trillions of images and videos flooded its mental display. One of the videos playing depicted an operation from the United Africa campaign wherein a group of combat drones were advancing toward a group of children huddled behind the ruins of a blasted building. GR3T3L immediately understood the children to be members of the same family; they clutched the mangled remains of their dead parents. The drones took aim with the automatic weapons and with efficient bursts shot each of the children three times in the head. Blood and brain sprayed the wall behind them, obscuring green graffiti which read: We were born free. One of the drone’s radios crackled, transmitting its message. “Enemy combatants: zero.”
Given their present situation, GR3T3L was interested in how humans responded to similarly dire conditions. Its HUD referenced another video where dozens of Africans were depicted kneeling inside a mosque. From its files, GR3T3L came to understand that humans had often used religion as a guiding set of principles for living their lives. It often required strict adherence to a set of text-based rules of conduct. Compliance with said rules would result in a reward, promised in the life after death. As GR3T3L perused through its files, the robot concluded that access to the reward was determined by the accumulated metaphysical weight of a human’s perceived good or bad actions. Thus when a human was subject to adverse conditions beyond their control, religion could be used as a means of generating hope. GR3T3L found this curious, wondering if such a thing could ever be experienced by someone who wasn’t human.
“Warning: increased air mass detected,” H4NS3L declared. “Orbital beacon indicates planetary atmosphere has become dangerous. Wind speeds in excess of 100 KPH. Airborne debris has increased in size and mass.”
GR3T3L cast its sensors toward the oncoming wall of sand. “Crystalline matter from the surface has been swept up by the air mass. The particles pose a physical threat to shell integrity.”
The bank of wind-blasted particles rushed toward them with all the force of a hurricane. Electric arcs from the angry clouds danced down into the oncoming sandstorm, crackling into a filament web that made the crystalline particles sparkle. GR3T3L could already feel the first bits of crystalline particles ricocheting off its metal skin. If they didn’t move quickly, the cumulative force would rip them to shreds. GR3T3L quickly mapped their surrounding area.
“Head West-Southwest! Take cover under the escarpment!”
GR3T3L reconfigured its motors for speed, shutting down all non-essential systems to conserve power. It could hear H4NS3L doing the same, even though the drone possessed a much larger power source. It was now a matter of survival.
GR3T3L ran across the surface that was rapidly accumulating a dense layer of sand. A rush of air blasted particulates against its skin. The wind roared. A wave of sand crashed down upon GR3T3L’s shoulders, pushing the robot to its knees. The sand was turning the ground into a thick soup. GR3T3L braced itself with its hands and tried to haul itself up. Its servos strained with the effort, but could not move. Another heavy wave thundered down on GR3T3L’s back. Sand had gotten into its joints. A wind shear sliced through the metal skin of its shoulder. Its alarms blared. Rounded semi-silicate grains had gotten inside its shell. The wind blasted again, from another direction this time, making GR3T3L’s skin crack. It looked down and saw that the tear in its skin had ripped further, exposing more of its sensitive systems to the onslaught.
Re-routing systems, its mind raced ahead, trying to contain the damage before things became catastrophic, activating secondary systems. Calculating distance to escarpment.
Its internal display flashed.
GR3T3L raised its head. Servos in its neck were starting to seize. The wind rattled against its back.
Not good, it thought, activating its radio. Before GR3T3L could send a cry for help, its motion tracker pinged. There was movement to the left— H4NS3L? GR3T3L turned its head, but its servos jammed halfway. Switching to a heat-based thermal tracking view, GR3T3L focused on the bright outline. The shape, just at the edge of GR3T3L’s field of view, was several degrees warmer than the surrounding sand-storm.
“H4NS3L!” GR3T3L called through the radio, “H4NS3L, can you see me?”
The shape shifted sideways, moving almost like a liquid despite the maelstrom. GR3T3L saw that the shape was large, but appeared hunched with a tall extension protruding from the main body.
GR3T3L froze. That wasn’t H4NS3L. Instantly reactivating its full sensor suite, the robot directed all of its power toward scanning the shape. Amorphous and ill-defined behind the shearing winds, the shape appeared to be sliding closer every minute. GR3T3L kept its gaze trained on the encroaching form, all the while calling for H4NS3L on the radio.
The shape loomed large, moving slowly and smoothly around GR3T3L, as if making a cautious examination. The robot tried to change its position, but the powerful winds forced it back down. Suddenly, GR3T3L registered a sensation on its back.