"The Return" by Ana Matics
Interview with Ellen Simpson.
If the name Ana Matics seems strangely familiar, you’ve probably heard it mentioned or seen it written in reference to one of the hottest web series out there—Carmilla: The Series. Ana Matics is the pseudonym for Ellen Simpson, one of the developers of Carmilla. Simpson— penned all the transmedia for the show, and is the editor behind the Carmilla-spinoff serialized web novel, Silas Confidential, which currently has over 34,000 reads on Wattpad (http://www.wattpad.com/77657329-silas-confidential-chapter-1)
Ana Matics is the pseudonym under which Simpson wrote her novel The Return, published in November by Ylva Publishing. The Return is a story of redemption, making amends, and carving out a future that differs from the one you envisioned when you first graduated high school.
Today is the opportunity to learn a bit more about one of the creative wizards behind Carmilla: The Series.
Ellen, tell us a bit about yourself:
Well, let’s see. I’m twenty-six. I grew up in Vermont, but I was born in Rhode Island. This is an important stipulation because I know people can track their Vermont roots back generations. I’m just a flatlander. I attended the University of Vermont, where I studied History and Political Science, concentrating on the Industrial History of the US and Media and Politics.
I currently live in Charlotte, NC and work for one of the many national banks with offices here. Moving from New England to the south (even if Charlotte is a very northern city) was a big shock, but I’ve fallen in love with this place.
For how many years have you been writing now, and how did you come to it?
I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t writing; I’ve always done it ever since I was a kid. To put a concrete start date on it wouldn’t make much sense, because writing is something that’s been a part of me since I was old enough to understand what the concept of it was.
Why do you write? What does it mean to you?
I write for a creative outlet…because I have to. There are too many stories floating around in my mind to not write them down. I write because there are so many people who do not write, who don’t even read. I don’t want to be one of those people, and I like to think that I could maybe inspire people to read and write through my own writing.
How did you become one of the authors of Carmilla: The Series? What do you like about working on a web series?
I knew the producer, Steph Ouaknine, through various social media connections. She’d been looking to do a single-camera vlog series in the style of The Lizzie Bennett Diaries and back in February 2014, she put the query out on Twitter. I replied to her question with Carmilla, a story that has always been close to my heart. The rest, as they say, is history.
Working on a web series was very fun and invigorating for me, because it was a creative process shared with someone else. Writing a novel is a very solitary experience, and being able to work with Jordan Hall (writer, co-creator) to create something so wonderful was both a new and positively enlightening experience for me.
Why do you think a retelling of a Victorian vampire story has become such a hit with modern YouTube viewers?
I think it’s so popular because it is queer-normative. So many stories about queer women are presented as either coming-out stories, evil lesbian stories, or will-they won’t-they situations, where the educated viewer knows that they won’t. The original version of Carmilla was an evil lesbian story; or, if you’re going to get more meta about it, a cautionary tale about the perils of female sexuality as seen through a male Victorian lens. So much of the queer media that is created and targeted at the audience of Carmilla is about coming out. The problem is that kids don’t need horrible tales of coming out to unsupportive parents and friends or about falling in love with the straight girl. They need stories where who they are is presented as normal and not this abject, horrible, emotionally draining thing.
This is why, I think, the series is doing so well. It’s happy. It’s about two girls who don’t get along at first and eventually fall in love. It’s about vampires in college, and it has commentary that many university students—a huge portion of the audience—can relate to. And it’s happy. That can’t be said enough.
Which character on Carmilla: The Series do you identify with most and why?
Oh, probably Laura. I find her awkwardness really relatable and her babbling is like looking in a mirror sometimes.
Where did the idea for Silas Confidential come from? How do you see it adding to the Carmilla web series?
Silas Confidential is meant to be an expanding of the Carmilla universe outwards, as are all the transmedia elements to the show. Because the show is shot with a fixed camera in a dorm room, we (as viewers) never get to see outside the dorm room into this very interesting university setting. Working with Tawny Stokes, the writer of Silas Confidential, we came up with a way to include some of the elements of the scripts that had to be cut for time and budget constraints, as well as a second pair of eyes at the university to help establish the setting a bit more.
You recently published your first novel, The Return. What is the difference between writing a novel and writing a web series?
As I said before, writing a novel is a very solitary experience, whereas Carmilla was collaborative. Being able to tell your own story without anyone else’s influence is great, I think, but it also means that you have no one to rely on but yourself when you get stuck.
Tell us a bit about The Return. How did you come to write this novel and what does it mean to you?
The Return combines a lot of what I love to read, which is why I think it flowed so easily when I wrote it. I wanted to tell a story of redemption and of loss, but also of the quiet strength that I think characterizes a lot of the people from my own childhood growing up in New England. Plus, I love a good sports story. I actually got the idea for writing this story after watching a documentary about Chris Herren, who is from Fall River, MA. He played for the Boston Celtics, among other teams, but struggled with drug addiction and his own identity beyond his ability to play basketball.
In my opinion, one of The Return’s strengths is its rich world building. The fictional setting of Near Haven, ME feels very real and at times, the novel reads with the richness of memoir. Did you grow up in a small town like The Return’s protagonist, Liza Hawke? Is there anything autobiographical for you in the novel?
Yes, I did grow up in a small town, several small towns, to be exact. I know the soulless feeling of a dying town like the back of my hand, and I know how people can feel as though they can get out, but will always come back to the same old streets and faces. In a sense, The Return has a lot of elements of things I grew up with, but also a lot of external elements that are unique to the story.
Liza Hawke is a character whose promising career as a college basketball star has gone down in flames and who must return in disgrace, after serving a prison sentence, to Near Haven, the town she swore to never see again. What made you start your novel with a protagonist in such dire circumstances?
I started the story there because I felt as though Liza’s fall from grace was unnecessary to write; the repercussions of that fall are shown over and over again in the book through flashbacks and in the way that Liza occupies the space of her childhood home. I felt as though if you start a story at rock bottom, the only way to go is up.
Who are your influences as a writer? Do you feel The Return bears any of those influences?
If I said I had any one influence as a writer, I’d be hard-pressed to pick just one. I love all writers, and how they present things, but your voice is truly your own in the end. No one else could tell this exact story, not in the way that it’s told now.
What’s next for you? How long will Silas Confidential continue? What are you currently working on?
Silas Confidential is probably one or two parts from being finished as of the first week in December. I’m working on two separate original pieces right now, one of which, The Light of the World, is up for anyone to read on Wattpad (http://www.wattpad.com/story/19756046-the-light-of-the-world) and is complete. I have a few script ideas bouncing around in my head as well and a story about an all-female group of criminals planning and executing a heist to steal a truly ugly painting.
Thank you very much for your time and the great answers. I hope that Silas Confidential and The Return will find many readers as both are amazing stories.