Meet the Neighbors: Contributing Editor Ann Bracken Interviews Morna McDermott McNulty

Ann Bracken is a contributing editor for Little Patuxent Review. Her friend and Towson University education professor, Morna McDermott McNulty, has just published a speculative fiction novel called Blood’s Will that explores the ideas of love and choice in unique and challenging ways. Bracken sat down with McNulty to explore her ideas and find out a little more about the intersection of her work with teaching, writing, and vampires.

Ann Bracken (AB): I think many of LPR’s readers are familiar with science fiction and with vampire stories, but speculative fiction may be a new genre for them. How would you describe speculative fiction and what distinguishes it from mainstream fiction?

Morna McDermott McNulty (MMM): Speculative fiction (SF) is part dystopian novel, part science fiction, and part utopian narrative. It usually tackles socio-political issues of the human condition. SF is a site for possible reimagining of a world in which the identities of people of color have been written by centuries of colonization, imperialism, and white privilege. I think about Octavia Butler’s book Fledgling, or The Gilda Stories by Jewel Gomez, both feminist tales in the speculative fiction genre, about vampires and women of color.

The vampire is the figure of choice in decolonization politics in that it exists between worlds as a specter that threatens the solidity of borders and the reality of a dominant imaginary.  SF can write into existence possibilities for humanness and otherness that extend outside of traditional binary boundaries. As a white middle class female with all the privileges that come with that, I am deeply interested in how we can challenge systems of inequity and injustice, and I think speculative fiction becomes a powerful tool in that arsenal. I wanted to use my own fictional writing skills to explore those issues. And I like to bring that tool kit into my own creative and professional worlds. Writing Blood’s Will, for me, was a bit of both.

AB: What makes this novel a good fit for your work as a teacher and a writer? Why did you choose the vampire framework for the story?

MMM: I love vampires. It’s hard to pinpoint why really. But part of it is in their inherent qualities—different from aliens, ghosts, zombies, or other creatures. My first academic work published about vampires was in 1999, co-written with a former boyfriend and colleague. We explored the themes in the film The Addiction, about a woman in a doctoral program at NYU. It was all very personal to me. Some part of that time in my life also bleeds through in Blood’s Will. I love the “liminality” of vampires— how they move between worlds and identities. They are so multifaceted. Like fiction is to the limitations of what we can write about our world, vampires embody the fascination of humans with what lies beyond our own “limitations”—beyond death. As undeath extends our lived possibilities, fiction extends our conceptions of what is possible in a world that feels so boxed-in by the limitations imposed on us by societal expectations, by language, and, for so many, by oppressive conditions. As I mentioned earlier, speculative fiction is a site for possible reimagining of a world in which the identities (in particular, people of color) have been written by centuries of colonization, imperialism, and white privilege.

AB: How was the idea for Blood’s Will born?

MMM: The answer to this also goes to the next question you asked which was “what are the essential questions” that drive the story. The idea for the book was born in part by my desire to wrestle with those questions (See next response).

But the timing of the writing of the book is distinct. The Twilight series was exploding onto the book and move scenes. As a vampire fan, I was compelled to read the books and see the movies. But I was struck by something that annoyed me. All the characters in that story (and true of similar narratives like The Vampire Diaries, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire) are wealthy, young, and beautiful. As far as I’m concerned, such characters are already immortal. Or at least perceive themselves to be. The choice “Should I, or shouldn’t I become a vampire?” seems a no-brainer for such characters. What exactly are they giving up?

But what if you were me. A middle-aged, middle-class mother of two, imbued with all the privileges and trapping of that identity. Would you burn that life to the ground for immortal love? In my world, the answer isn’t nearly so neat and simple. And the sacrifices to attain immortality are far more significant. But ironically the choice of immortality also opens up so many more possibilities. And so, the idea that such a possibility could loom (the beauty of speculative fiction) compelled me, and hopefully my reader, to look in the mirror, pun intended, and ask themselves that same question: What would you choose? And what would you sacrifice? These, in my opinion, are fundamentally questions that women confront every day. So the story casts a feminist lens as well. Also, I thought, oh what the hell…if Stephanie Meyer who was a stay-at-home mom potty-training her kids while she wrote Twilight can do it, so can I.

AB: Outside of the academic world, many people may be unfamiliar with the curriculum area called currere. How would you explain the concept?

MMM: Currere is a Latin word meaning “the running of the race,” and it was coined in educational circles by two notable scholars, William Pinar and Madeleine Grumet, back in the mid-seventies. At the time, and since then really, schooling has been driven by very technical qualities-what we can measure, predict, and control. Pinar, Grumet, and since then a whole international movement of curriculum theorists called “re-conceptualists,” argue that the idea of curriculum, typically thought of as that “stuff” we teach in schools, needs to be expanded to examine the entire life of the person. Curriculum might better be considered everything that happens from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we go to sleep at night. And that who we are—our memories, our dreams, our fears, our psyche—are all also a part of what we bring to the learning experience called school.

Now extend this thinking into how we make meaning of and write about our learning experiences through inquiry. Drawing from the work of other curriculum scholars, such as Noel Gough, I wanted to play with the idea that fiction also has an important part of play in this inquiry process. In the words of Jamaican novelist and philosopher Sylvia Wynter, “The future will first have to be remembered, imagined” (2007, p. 3).

Currere is memory work. Blend fiction with currere and you have ficto-currere. Ficto-currere creates an intersection between memory and fiction—both of which are “unreal” and constructed. There are four different stage when engaged in the journey of currere: Recalling the past (regressive), being free of the present (analytical), being able to reenter the present (synthetical), and gesturing towards what is not yet present (progressive). It is important to note, however, that these stages are not considered linear or progressive. And if currere is a re-conceptualizing of our lives, just imagine what that could look like for a creature that never has to face death? For a creature whose intrinsic identity is unfixed? (See next Q and A for a continuation of this idea.)

AB: What are the essential questions that drive the main characters Campbell and Finn? What made you choose to explore these dilemmas?

MMM: My own personal quest to make meaning of the choices we make, of the scope of possible parallel worlds that could exist alongside the ones we currently call reality was what inspired me to write about these topics. My favorite writer is Milan Kundera, who in his work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, examines the balance between lightness and weight, between fate and choice. I’ve spent my whole adult life pondering these questions. So, too, the characters in Blood’s Will. They experience phase one of currere in recalling their pasts. After meeting again as adults, by chance (or perhaps fate), Campbell and Finn are engaged in step two (progressive stage) of currere. Again, each has an opportunity to rethink the future. As the story progresses, Campbell begins asking herself, “If vampires could exist, then what else could be reimagined as well?” The synthetic phase (third phase of currere) is revealed in moments which I won’t reveal—I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone. But suffice to say she is confronted with an alternative reality (stage four of currere), and from which the ending is revealed. In Finn’s “vampire theory,” the reader is brought along through an academic analysis (a moment where research and fiction blend) to consider the most fundamental of human questions. Currere is a sort of haunting, always at best a sort of ghost story, or tale of otherworldly-ness. We conjure, we recall, we retell our narratives; in each recounting, we re-imagine in spaces that are liminal

AB: What makes fiction, and the vampire genre in particular, an appropriate genre for currere?

MMM: Both fiction and vampires are wonderfully inbetween states of being. Fiction isn’t the opposite of fact, it’s the opposite of finitude. Our memories are always part-fiction—every time we recall some event, we are recreating it in our minds, and each time, it changes just a little. Each recollection is a reconstruction and relies consciously or unconsciously on our imaginations to render a full narrative. So going back to the idea of currere, the recalling, re-imagining and hence, transformation, of ourselves in light of our learning experiences, fiction seemed an inherent, even if unacknowledged facet of this process. Vampires, too, are these wonderfully liminal creature. They are human, and not-human. They are dead, but not-dead. They look like us.

And if currere is a re-conceptualizing of our lives (examining the past in light of the present with imaginings for the future) just imagine what that could look like for a creature that never has to face death. As fiction is to the limitations of what we can write, the vampire embodies the fascination of humans with what lies beyond our own limitations—beyond death. As undeath extends our lived possibilities, fiction extends our conceptions of what is possible in a world that feels so boxed-in by the limitations imposed on us by societal expectations, by language …(and) for so many, by oppressive circumstances. That’s why speculative fiction has been the genre of choice for so many colonized writers of color, such as Octavia Butler. Fiction is a site for possible reimagining of a world in which the identities of people of color have been written by centuries of colonization, imperialism, and white privilege.

AB: Is the book an academic textbook? Or, is it a fun summer reading?

MMM: The answer is—both. In keeping with the theme of fiction and vampires …the book itself defies categorization. It is both/and. The story was originally written purely as a fun story—accessible and written for a general audience, as a work that invites the reader to not only think deeply, but to enjoy the stories unfolding. The academic part of it came after I wrote it. I had the realization that it was a really solid example of currere. And, as a curriculum scholar who does currere work, and as a researcher who uses narrative as a form of research, I could see the potential for this work of fiction to become of text for others exploring the same academic and scholarly fields. The book became an example of that kind of work. The Introduction and Afterward were written specifically for that audience alone. For my general reader my advice is: skip the Intro and start with chapter one. But I hope that the book becomes a central work of study for graduate studies in narrative inquiry and curriculum theory, as much as I hope it becomes a fun summer reading for anyone who likes a good vampire- romance- turned philosophical-playground kind of reading. Think of it as Bridges of Madison County with fangs. As my friend Darian Schiffman so eloquently put it, The whole story is like this long ecstasy trip for women in my demographic.”

AB: Thank you, Morna, and I wish you all the best with your book. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you.

MMM: Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak with you.

Bio: Morna McDermott McNulty, PhD, is a professor in the College of Education at Towson University, Maryland, USA.  Her teaching and research focus on the intersections of art, social justice, and public education. Morna also teaches as class entitled Vampires On Campus as a Freshman research seminar. She has worked in public school contexts for over 25 years. Books include The Left Handed Curriculum and The Activists Handbook for the Education Revolution. She has authored or co-authored over 20 peer-reviewed articles and 20 book chapters.  Blood’s Will is her first published fiction. She lives in Catonsville with her husband and two children. For the record, she has never had an extra-marital affair with a vampire.

Blood’s Will has been nominated for the Outstanding Book of the Year for 2018-2019 in Division B: Curriculum Studies for the American Education Research Association annual conference.

* * *

Published with Peter Lang Publishers, the book is also available on Amazon, at the Towson University Bookstore, the Towson Cook Library, and Baltimore Public Library (Catonsville branch).

Publisher website: https://www.peterlang.com/view/title/68272?tab=aboutauthor
SBN: 978-1-4331-5571-0
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3726/b14189
Available in paperback, hardbound and e-book.
Recommended Retail Price CHF** SFr.42.00EURD** €40.95EURA** €41.00EUR* €34.20GBP* £28.00USD* $40.95

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