The Secret Guide to Keeping Supernatural Secrets

A review of Sierra Dean’s The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters (Samhain Publishing Ltd., 2011)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Named “Secret” and a person at the crossroads of many secrets, Secret McQueen is a bounty hunter you will enjoy.  Secret is a hybridised half vampire, half werewolf and treated as a second class citizen by the vampires she works for due to only sharing half of her identity with them. She would be treated even worse if they knew that the other half was not human, but the creature that vampires view as totally loathsome – the werewolf. In a world where vampires and werewolves are hidden from the public, Secret stands at the bridge between two hidden groups, blanketed in human disbelief for the supernatural. In order to keep the existence of the supernatural from humanity, Secret has become a bounty hunter for the vampires, suppressing any risks of exposure. She is a guardian and gatekeeper of whispered supernatural truths.

Secret’s human friend Mercedes has been able to find out about her werewolf side, but has an intense hatred for vampires, whose existence she has discovered. Her intolerance forced Secret to repress and suppress her vampiric side around one of her few friends.

In The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters, Sierra Dean deals with issues of being an inter-racial person, abstracting the social pressures encountered by inter-racial people onto the inter-monstrous figure of Secret McQueen. Like many inter-racial people, she is trapped between her identities, suspended in a place of intolerance by both sides where she is forced to find her own identity, and often hide aspects of herself. If the racist vampire council knew about her werewolf side, she would experience further workplace discrimination (which she is already experiencing for being only half vampire). She is constantly forced to “pass”, to pretend to be fully something that she is not  – whether it be human, werewolf, or vampire. She is trapped in a constant need to pretend, to act, and to only express parts of her dual heritage.

Secret finds she has difficulty finding dates since she can never be totally honest with a lover, always having to hide some part of her identity from groups intolerant toward inter-racial people. She even notes at the start of the narrative “As a general rule, people don’t like to date monsters”, opening the story to the challenges involved in having to play something one is not.

The theme of playing identity, and performing identity is further expressed by the person Secret is sent to hunt, an actor who plays vampire roles in Hollywood movies… who happens to actually BE a vampire. Here is a character who is playing an actor playing himself, a lie trapped inside a truth. The actions of this vampire, abusing his power to control women and using his vampiric gaze to take away the decision-making abilities of the women he tries to seduce, he risks exposing the secrets of the vampiric world in addition to taking away the identity and selfhood of his victims. Secret has to suppress the risk of exposure posed by this vampire, but she takes a secret pleasure in doing so because slaying this vampire would do society as a whole a favour.

You can explore Sierra Dean’s work on her website at . You can purchase The Secret Guide to Dating Monsters in ebook format from Amazon, iTunes, or Kobo or by visiting the Samhain Publishing website at

Upcoming Interview with Liz Strange on November 6th, 2012

Because Halloween has just passed and I just had to indulge in my passion for the monstrous a little more, I decided to interview Liz Strange about her vampire novels and portrayals of the monstrous and mythical.

If you got a chance to read my review of Liz Strange’s The Embrace of Life and Death, I know you are looking forward to reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out : it was posted on October 30th.

Liz Strange is an author of Fantasy, Horror, and Mystery. She has a fascination with vampires, mythology, and history.  I hope you enjoy my interview with Liz Strange on November 6th

Here are a few highlights from the interview to get you excited about it:

Liz Strange: “Under certain conditions we can all be monsters.”

Liz Strange: “I think we are all looking for answers. Ancient mythology and spiritual beliefs came from a need to define the world around us, to understand our humanity and our place in the ‘bigger picture”.”

Liz Strange: “Having a queer character can give a reader a new perspective on life and relationships, or can be something with which to identify with. It offers challenges, broader thinking, open mindedness and acceptance.”

Liz Strange: “Beyond the surface attraction to the ideas of immortality, strength, power, etc, I love the idea of the vampire as a physical manifestation of the darker, primal nature lurking in all humans.”

Liz Strange: “I like my readers to be entertained, first and foremost, but I also like to spark some interest in things they may never have thought of before. I like to intrigue, incite curiosity and challenge people to think outside their comfort zone. The world is a big place, full of wonder, mystery, beauty and misery.”

Liz Strange: “The monster is romantic and sympathetic, because it lives in all of us.”

To explore more about Liz Strange in advance of the interview, check out her website at . Stay tuned for the upcoming interview on November 6th

A Dance of Blood and Light

A Review of Liz Strange’s The Embrace of Life and Death (MLR Press, 2011).
By Derek Newman-Stille

A lot of people who see a cover that features two half naked men would assume that a book does not have a lot of substance to it. However, after hearing Liz Strange speak at Can Con in Ottawa, I knew she had incredible insights and that I had to read The Embrace of Life and Death . The novel features a relationship between an angel and a vampire and that pairing itself evokes complications. The fact that both of the characters are male and that this is the vampire, Kieran’s first time being attracted to a man further complicates matters. The fact that his lover is the angel Azrael (the angel of death) means that there are a number of theological questions and considerations that are brought to the fore.

The Embrace of Life and Death is aptly titled, featuring a clash and synthesis of opposites: dark and light, cold and hot, damned and saved, reveling in pleasure and denying pleasure. A vampire and an angel make unusual partners, particularly when the other angels and their master The Supreme One have made Azrael an outsider for his love of the vampire. Her characters have a mutual interest and excitement of discovery about the encounter with the opposite, the foreign and strange to them.

Her novel represents a clash of duty and love, a complex relationship that evokes changes and challenges for both partners. Both experience conflicting feelings about the relationship as the past continues to haunt them and cause them to question the nature of their relationship and what it suggests about their identity. They have to sacrifice parts of their identity to be together, moving themselves out of the place of certainty about who they are so that they can form something new of themselves. Both characters experience moral struggles over their new relationship, and Liz Strange helps her reader to recognise that most things in this world exist in a place of moral ambiguity where good, quality questions can be asked, and that there is no such thing as a fixed, unchanging identity.

Both of the main characters Kieran and Azrael are highly masculine figures, deviating from the general feminisation of queer characters that tends to feature in representations of gay relationships.  Both are strong, complex, and avoid stereotypes, making them rich queer characters. Liz Strange uses this text, and particularly the figure of an angel (a figure generally central to Christian belief) to question anti-queer agendas advocated by many groups who claim this to be part of their religion. She suggests that this bias is from human beings, not from the divine. She encourages her readers to question anything that states that questioning is forbidden.

The vampire in this work serves as a symbol of nostalgia and the past as a taboo place. Despite his age, Kieran is firmly a figure of the present, a modern creature. He is a creature of ‘the now’ forced to go into his own past and research his roots, to know himself fully before taking changes for the future. Azrael similarly has to seek his own memories and the restoration of his memory in order to understand himself and his place in the world. His memories have been taken away by his leader The Supreme One, and it is only through this restoration of his selfhood that he is able to enter into his relationship as a complete person, a whole person.

Liz Strange makes great use of metaphor and richness of description in her work, creating a powerful sensory experience that draws the reader in. She is an author who recognises that fear and longing are similar sensory experiences, playing with the reader’s senses and evoking a kick of adrenaline. It is a tough book to put down.

You can read more about Liz Strange’s work at her website: .