Why Samantha Allan Wrote a Lesbian Sasquatch Novel ‹ CrimeReads
The first word people find to describe my novel Patricia wants to cuddle is usually something like “bonkers”, “bananas”, or “weird”. I understand. My book is about reality show contestants murdered by a cryptid on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t exactly choose a subtle premise for my fiction debut.
But it took work and years of chewing on the idea to give me permission to go this far. The biggest hurdle in this process has been unlearning the principles of non-fiction, detaching myself from even the semblance of truth, and allowing myself to imagine something wild and wacky: a book that essentially forces the reader to use a tower crane to suspend his disbelief. It was not easy.
Before Patricia, I was a 33-year-old man who had written three memoirs, which I don’t advise doing unless you’re more into documenting your life than actually living it. I had plenty to chew on: a former Mormona road trip across the country across LGBTQ+ communities in red states, a strange love story. Yet I spent the first decade of my writing career envying novelists. As I struggled to describe people and places that actually existed, painstakingly trying to document every detail, from the color of a car to the hue of a sunrise, they were inventing new worlds and to fill them with people they had invented, apparently Ex nihilo.
Of course, that distinction starts to blur the second you apply pressure to it: memoirs themselves involve a fair amount of manipulation of facts (“emotional truth” is the goal, not 100% truth). real) and fiction writers are often, as the common saying goes, writing what they know, repackaging their own lives, experiences and relationships. But when you feel trapped in nonfiction — as I have, due to my daily job as a journalist — that gap can feel both real and wide. I didn’t dare try to cross it. How could I just make stuff up? I hadn’t done that since I scribbled poems in a notebook in second grade. It was silly. Unworthy. And exactly what I wished I could do.
In 2018 when I first told a film/TV agent the germ of an idea that would later become Patrick, I felt extremely embarrassed, like I was dating her (which is a joke I can do, since I’ve literally dated hundreds of times). At the time, I was buying my first complete book, The Real Queer America, envisioning a career for myself as a serial columnist of Other People’s Stories. Even discuss the idea of a Bachelor-the style show went horribly wrong I felt out of character, and I was worried that it wouldn’t make me sound serious even to mention it, so I just kind of choked the words down and let them drift into thin air. “Maybe a day later,” I said, dismissing it as a vain thought.
Two years later, I couldn’t resist brainstorming the project, but I imagined it as a much more grounded book, with no cryptids to find, and anything “bonkers” removed in favor of a slightly more realistic increased. Then I started letting a bit of camp seep in, imagining something closer in tone to the Scream movies, but still avoiding the metatextual madness of this franchise. After trying so long to stay reasonably close to the truth, I found it hard to part with it all at once; better dip my toes in the pool than dip a polar bear.
To be completely frank, I also wanted to hold on to my laurels at the start of the process. I not only envied novelists their ability to write fiction, I coveted the prestige that seemed to be accorded to the most “literary” among them. The Real Queer America had received praise, and although many reviewers focused on content rather than craftsmanship, others noticed the painstaking work that has gone into weaving together memoirs and theory. Writing this book was an artistic process as much, if not more, than a simple cataloging of experiences. So maybe if I wrote a novel that aspired to be something big, and succeeded at least vocally, I could be admitted to the halls of fame. Then journalists would be jealous of me.
But as I struggled to capture the general mood of my novel, playing with an opening chapter, I began to consider a change in approach. If what I ostensibly wanted to do was let my imagination stray from the facts, I might as well let it wander as far as possible. Living in Seattle, I am bombarded daily with images of a certain mysterious character who lives in the woods. Bigfoot is on bumper stickers, postcards and store signs – a presence as ubiquitous as the gray clouds hanging overhead. Eventually, I put two and two together, realizing with a jolt that damn it, I was going to put a Lady Sasquatch in my slasher comedy novel. Before I knew it, I had 3,000 words on the page.
Even then, I hesitated to share this sample with my literary agent, prefacing the attachment with an anxious message that I had lost my mind. I was a memoirist. What was I doing throwing something so weird? We should surely put a quick end to this nonsense and return to non-fiction proposals! To my surprise, she liked the direction, and by then I was starting to get over my insecurities anyway.
What if writing a book about Bigfoot makes me look like an idiot? What did I care if Patricia would be placed in genre sections instead of being set aside in fiction, without modification? Why should I keep dragging my feet instead of racing full throttle towards the wonderful freedom of horror storytelling? It was a great idea – the kind you know you have to write yourself because if you don’t who else goes? All my other concerns about rootedness and prestige faded as the notion marinated in my mind. It was my responsibility as a shepherd Patricia in the world. She was in charge now; I was only his messenger.
Maybe the book turned out “bonkers”. Maybe it’s “bananas” or even “batshit”. But the beauty of fiction is that you can be as bold as you want, lying between your teeth while telling strange new truths.