Johnny: American readers will be shocked to learn that Muti is a real thing in Africa, a real problem. Tell us about it.
Monique: Oh, Johnny. Ritual murders are a problem around the world, not just in Africa. I think the only reason MUTI NATION is considered so foreign and scary is because our ritual murders—a.k.a muti-murders—are a bit more savage in nature. Don’t get me wrong, ritual murders in general are savage, but few countries can claim their victims are hacked up for medicine, which is then induced by other people at some point to (supposedly) better their own lives. I think it’s the cannibalistic element that truly scares folks, because that’s a worldwide taboo. And the fact that it still happens in a modern world is even scarier. Yes, muti-murders are a real thing and it is a problem, but ritual murders are a problem across the world.
M: Not necessarily. What inspired this book was speaking to Sakina Murdock about how much South Africa differs from other countries, and somehow we got onto the subject of the paranormal. She didn’t know anything about muti or tokoloshes or how truly strange this continent can be, and said I should write a book about it. I did, and voila. My country is so weird sometimes [laughs]. I mean, where else in the world will you get a specific law prohibiting witches to fly their broomsticks higher than 150 meters? Only in South Africa—well, specifically Swaziland, but that’s a mini country within our borders. And I’m not even kidding! Here you go if you don’t believe me: http://www.news24.com/Africa/News/Swazi-broomstick-flying-witches-to-fly-low-20130515
J: Esmé is a dynamic character. From our limited long distance connections I can’t help but sense some of you in the character. How much of her is you?
Now, that part is real, that’s me. I went to that primary school for four years, Johnny. Eendracht Primary, located just around the corner from Schubart Park and Kruger Park. I gave away my shoes or jersey to less-fortunate kids, even though I knew we weren’t that fortunate either. I couldn’t take seeing them so cold. Sometimes, all I got on my sandwiches were butter, but I would hand my lunch out to the others, because they just looked so much hungrier. When my mother finally figured out something was wrong, she confronted me and I told her how bad those kids had it … So, my mom and her friends at work (they were typists for the Department of Education) organised a charity drive to our school, handing out clothes and food to those less fortunate than us. My sister and I both received trophies from the principle for our humility and goodwill. But the best prize was seeing how happy those kids were when they had something warm to wear and a full belly.
Those tales Esmé tell are real, but unlike her, I don’t come from a rich family. Also, I didn’t have an eccentric grandfather. My grandmother, on the other hand, was a memorable character, but Christiaan Snyders isn’t based on her.
J: Wait, hold on. We haven’t talked about the book yet. Tell the readers about MUTI NATION.
M: MUTI NATION is a book that revolves around a young occult-crime expert, named Esmé Snyders, who’s actually more an academic than a detective. But in order to keep the agency afloat, she takes to helping out the police with their ritual murder cases, and sometimes she’ll also assist the Catholic Church if they don’t have someone on hand. She is not a paranormal investigator or a ghost hunter. And she is not a detective. The story is set in Pretoria, South Africa, where a muti-murder is committed by a serial killer, known only as Him for the majority of the story. It’s a real cat-and-mouse game, though, because as she’s hunting down the killer, he’s tormenting her on a paranormal level. Meanwhile, she has some personal conflicts to deal with, and other cases on her plate. It’s quite an exciting book, if I do say so myself.
J: Whew, glad we got that done. I get to keep my job at Omnium Gatherum. How were we to work with by the way? Remember I’m editing this.
M: You guys were a joy to work with, especially seeing as I could play teacher in regards to some of the proudly South African terminology I used. [giggles] Robots and bakkies and spruite, oh my!
J: That was a trip. Two cultures separated by a common language.
You conceive of a supernatural investigator, an entire agency in fact. You portray it so reasonably, so intricately that I have to ask Is this wholly fiction or do know of such things?
M: Are there real private agencies in South Africa dedicated to studying fringe sciences? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that there was (and probably still is) an Anti-Occult Crime Unit in our police department. They really did use propaganda to scare people back to God.
What I personally know about the occult and religion, however, is that I minored in religious studies at university—first Christian Theology and later Islam—and I’ve always enjoyed studying the occult. It’s fascinating.
Fringe sciences have always interested me, too, and I devour anything that revolves around it.
So, although I won’t call myself an expert on the matter, I do know enough to sound intelligent. [giggles]
M: I don’t understand it! [laughs nervously] Everyone’s been complimenting me on the naughty bits in the book, which isn’t really that naughty for me… I mean, I know I won’t ever be eligible for a Bad Sex Award, because I actually get some bow-chicka-bow-wow at home. I just didn’t intend it to be so sexy. My friends keep telling me to get into romance writing, and maybe one day I will, but for now I’m perfectly happy writing horror. Besides, what rule says horror can’t have some raunchy romance scenes that don’t include vampires or werewolves or zombies?
J: Talk to me about Pretoria. It’s the background of the book, but also a central character in its reflections and setting. Readers of MUTI NATION will come away with a sense of the place, it’s climate and design, politics and impressions. There’s a travel log among the pages of thrills in your book. You seem to have a love/hate relationship with the place.
You have to understand, though, South Africa is utterly beautiful. The people are wonderful, the culture is rich, and the scenery is just gorgeous. We have deserts and forests and marshes, all breath-taking in their own way. There is wildlife and there are cities. It’s a mix-match of everything good. But along with the good comes the bad … Violent crimes are a pandemic, instigated by political leaders for the sake of getting ahead in the voting polls. Corruption is so bad, our president is being sued for stealing money to build his mansion, but he’s not the only one doing the stealing. There are still racial issues we have to deal with. There are so few opportunities to make a living for yourself, let alone better your circumstances … So yes, I definitely have a love/hate relationship toward my country, but it’s solely because I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision for South Africa. I believe we can be better, that we can work together and live in harmony, and I believe his spirit lives on within us all.
J: What’s your writing background? Where’d you learn your craft?
When I was nineteen, I dropped out of university to pursue a writing career, because at least I found that challenging. You see, if I’m not challenged, I get bored, and when I get bored there’s Hell on Earth. Needless to say, the university and I did not part on good terms. I learned nothing new there. Even in high school, I got so bloody bored because I wasn’t being challenged (evidence of this includes being absent from school for 58 days—not including downtime during exams—and still being allowed entrance to the University of Pretoria to study a degree that falls under the Engineering and IT Department).
How did I learn this craft? Well, I read a lot (100 books a year), so that counts as studying my craft. I also practice writing often. But most importantly, I learn from my mistakes. A lot of other authors get super annoyed when they receive a bad review, whereas I tend to use those to harness my writing skills. I’m also fortunate to have great editor friends who are quick to tell me: “NO! DO NOT DO THAT!” So that helps significantly.
J: You’ve published a lot of short stories. Mostly in horror. Is that your favorite genre?
J: What is your process for writing a novel like MUTI NATION? Do you outline? Is the process different from your short fiction?
M: I’ve tried numerous techniques in the past when it comes to writing novels, but what I’ve felt work best for me is to write the synopsis first and then a 2-page summary of what I want to happen. That keeps me on track, whilst throwing some surprises in my way. If I plot more than this, and I get bored, because then I know everything exactly as it’s going to happen and my brain tells me: “Dude, you’ve seen this movie … in your head.”
When it comes to short stories, I just write. No planning. Planning comes when I’m done and I start to edit the story.
I’m weird, I know.
J: What’s the writing scene like in South Africa?
Yes, we still get asked to attend certain festivals, speak on panels, and so on, but the opportunities are significantly fewer—especially when you’re an indie author.
Do I mind? Not at all. I like a challenge, after all. [winks]
MUTI NATION? Did I hear that certain religious groups have spoke out against it?
M: So far, the response to MUTI NATION has been fantastic! People from across the world find themselves immersed in the experience of a South African crime thriller, enjoying the country without ever setting foot here. And I’ve noticed that my subtle scares have been much more effective than the big, ol’ messy murder scenes. I’m rather chuffed with it all.
Although I’ve heard some … negative comments … about the subject matter, it’s not been that bad. It’s just a few religious extremists who sees the word “witchcraft” and get on their high horse without ever reading the book. I’m annoying enough to convince them into reading the book too, just give me a few months to soften them up with my kindness and smiles.
J: Not to give any spoilers, but MUTI NATION could have sequels. Any in the works?
M: I have plans for a trilogy, yes. So far, I’ve dabbled with the sequel a bit, but I can’t go into too much detail yet. So, you can definitely expect something in the future IF my publisher deems it a possibility.
J: Where on the internets can people find out more about you and your work?
M: I am EVERYWHERE!
M: This was a straight up interview. No zombies or death, portals into hell around every corner. How’s that? Isn’t this the notorious Blog Mansion.
J: See what happens when I’m so involved in the book and author?
M: It’s like a free ride through a maze of...
J: Not exactly. I’ll be needing your fingers. I making Muti.
M: Damn…. I knew it was too good to be true.