Interview with Christina Engela
Damon: Thank you for agreeing to this interview Christina. How many books have you written and published to date?
Christina: In fiction I have seven completed novels, one novelette, and a collection of short stories. The Galaxii Series has three titles, and the Quantum Series, four.
In non-fiction, before 2010 I wrote two books on the topic of LGBT persecution at the hands of Christianist organizations around the world and in South Africa, and a short FAQ booklet about the Pink Community (LGBT). These are out of print now, but I have plans to resurrect revised versions of them later. In this year “Bugspray”, my book about VW Beetles, was released as well.
Damon: Tell us a little about your preferred genre and your favourite books so far?
Christina: My writing tends to be eclectic, like me! Ha ha! It varies slightly, depending on what I’m writing for, but sci-fi would seem to be my main genre, with hints of comedy, wit, fantasy and horror. There are differences between my series for example, the Galaxii Series is slightly darker and more serious and action oriented than the Quantum Series, which is a little more fantastical and humor oriented.
All my books and their characters are like children to me, so it’s hard to say really which would be my favorite, but if I had to choose, it would be “Loderunner”. “The Time Saving Agency” would be a close second.
Damon: Where does your inspiration come from?
Christina: Real life. I know – it’s hard to put that together when you realize I write sci-fi and fantasy laced with elements of horror – but I write mostly from experience. That is, I put a lot of myself and my life experiences into the characters I write about, and also aspects of people I knew or know – and also I draw from actual events, and transform everything into an entertaining tale! Often something will happen and I will sit and think, “Y’know, that would make a really great story!” – and that’s how it starts!
Being a transgender woman, it’s probably obvious that I would include some transgender characters in my writing, and I do. I also include characters from other parts of the LGBT spectrum in my stories, although in some stories it is more predominant than in others. It depends on the story, and it depends on where it takes me. Sometimes a story will be filled with humor – but there might also be an undercurrent of sorrow or tragedy intended to inspire the reader to think outside the box they’re accustomed to, to feel empathy for the plight of one or more of the characters. I guess you might say that as an activist, even my fictional writing could be considered activism as well!
Damon: What were the most important formative experiences for you?
Christina: Having two supportive and loving parents. Although both have crossed over now, my mom and dad were both attentive and loving parents. Nobody is perfect, I know, but they were to me. I learned a lot from them, basically that ‘civility costs nothing’, and that people should treat other people how they would like to be treated. Both abhorred bigotry and injustice.
Realizing that I was transgender was a long and complicated process since it occurred before the internet came along, and so at the age of 17, just as I shipped off to do national service in the army, I had to wade through the messy world of oppressive discipline, homophobia and bigotry.
The unbelievable hatred and ignorance coming from people around me when they thought I was gay, and for when I came out as transgender was quite a turning point in my life. I was a Christian at that time, and because the vast majority of the hatred I encountered came from other Christians, it was pretty horrifying. I gradually backed off from religion, and identified as ‘agnostic’ for a few years, before embarking on a Pagan path when I joined a Wiccan coven in 2010. It didn’t end there however, and I am pretty eclectic in my spirituality.
Damon: You wear many different hats, tell us about some of them?
Christina: Yikes! Where do I begin? I think it’s best I skip the hats I don’t wear anymore ha ha!
I hold down a regular job (where I think I wear most of those hats!) 7:30 to 4 pm every day except weekends.
I’ve been interacting with the South African Vampyre Alliance (SAVA) since 2011, and assisting with various projects, including the Alternative Religions Forum where I’ve been a researcher since 2013, a tenure that resulted in the peer-reviewed academic document “Satanism: The Acid Test”.
Since 2012 I’ve served on SAPRA’s (South African Pagan Rights Alliance) Executive Committee.
I run a few Facebook support groups, for transgender women and a few in the occult community as well. Sometimes its a full-time job on its own!
This year I was honored with an invitation to be a member of the Board for OUT!ology Network, a new LGBT organization based in Port Elizabeth.
I’m still with SA GLAAD (SA Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), as I have been since 2008. Although it’s not that active anymore, and its future is uncertain, I still haven’t got to the point where I feel NOW is the time to step out of that corner. Once I do, I know it’s gone and that would be for me, the end of an era.
Damon: What inspired you to activism in so many different fields?
Christina: I suppose it can be summed up in one statement: I simply can’t abide injustice in any form.
To me it doesn’t matter what entity – be it an individual or a group of people, a religious identity, a gender, a sexual orientation, a subculture, a race or ethnicity – is being persecuted, oppressed, or hate being incited against them, it makes my blood boil!
I believe that all people deserve to be treated equally before the law, and that as long as they don’t harm others, they should be treated as such. I’ve been called an indigo child because of my activism, and perhaps it’s true – who can say?
When I see injustice, it motivates me to do something about it – even if it’s by speaking out, or as an activist, encouraging other people to speak out as well. Doing nothing is to me like silence – which gives consent to the injustice I perceive.
As a result since 2000, I’ve become involved with activism for LGBT as a whole, for intersex people within the LGBT movement, for transgender people in and outside of the LGBT movement, for freedom OF religion and also for freedom FROM religion. To a lesser degree I’ve also advocated for causes in the human rights field addressing racism, sexism and animal rights.
My fiction writing took a back seat completely between 2005 and 2012, where I was concentrating on attending or chairing committee meetings, overseeing arrangements for Port Elizabeth’s first Pride event in 2011 etc. I also got entangled in some local politics with the DA between 2007 and 2009, becoming Chairperson for Ward 5 and Secretary for the Constituency over that period. In 2010 I was nominated (unsuccessfully) as a Ward Councillor candidate, but that never went anywhere. I got into that particular arena because I wanted to make a positive difference, and also because I wanted people to see a transgender woman making that positive difference. On the other hand, it could also be because I can’t keep my mouth shut – and I’m just too stupid to be scared! I have to admit though, that speaking on the radio and TV is pretty nerve-wracking!
Gradually though, I began to cut back on my activities in activism. I was spread too thin. It all comes down to time and energy, you see – and over time I seem to have depleted a lot of energy! When I started as an activist in 2000 I was full of fire – but that fire burns you out from the inside as well. In 2008 I and a few other activists were leading the charge against Jon Qwelane for his homophobic column, and before I realized it, by 2011, I was Media Liaison for SA GLAAD, Director of ECGLA, and writing a lengthy article A DAY for my activism blog “Sour Grapes: the Fruit Of Ignorance”, as well as a weekly column for Litnet! Aside from all that, I also became involved with SAPRA as a member of the Executive Committee as you know, and then the Alternative Religions Forum, aside from my involvement with the Vampyre Community.
I joke about it, but in all seriousness, if I had duplicates of myself to help me, imagine how much I could accomplish?
Damon: How does your personal faith influence your writing?
Christina: The majority of fiction books I see do not cater to Pagans or non-Christians. By that I mean, the writer will use for example “Oh my God!” or “Good God!” in sentences or dialog in their works. By contrast, I use the Pagan plural “gods” for example “About godsdamned time!”
Further, while portraying characters in what could be seen as ordinary situations and in run-of-the-mill discussions, I refer to Pagan holidays such as Saturnalia instead of the regular Christianized ones we hear referred to in our time.
I don’t particularly discuss religion in my fiction writing, at least not in detail. At least, I haven’t worked on a story yet that warranted it.
I’m a Pagan, and I identify with Dark Paganism specifically. That is, I don’t ascribe to the notion of all light is good and all darkness is bad or ‘evil’. People are not ALL light or ALL dark – they are all a blend of the two, and to deny the existence of the one is to neglect a part of the self – and to over-nourish the one part over the other results in an unbalanced individual. That’s awfully puritanical in my view, also somewhat naive. I find a balance between the two to be more reasonable – a grayness, sometimes light, sometimes dark – as the occasion demands. For that reason, when I identify as a Witch, I do so as a Grey Witch, or as one who practices grey magick.
My ancestors play a prominent role in my spirituality, as I am aware they are present in my life, keeping a watch over me, and acting in my best interests when the occasion arises. As far as deities are concerned, I strongly identify with the deity of Lilith, although I a would have to call myself an Atheistic Pagan. I do not ‘believe’ in a god or gods specifically as actual entities, but I do know that magic and energy exist, and I see deities as fractal representations of aspects of the self.
Damon: What are your goals for the future?
Christina: I’ve been writing stories for most of my life, since I could first hold a wax crayon well enough to get my parents into trouble at school! My main goal is to keep writing stories featuring more LGBT characters, more Pagan and more diverse characters, and telling human stories in the most entertaining thought-provoking ways possible. Getting wealthy off it is not the main goal, although it would be nice if I could afford to work on my stories (and some activism) from home, full time!
I’ve finally found ‘the one’ – the love of my life, Wendy Keran Gloss, and my goal in that context, is to spend the remainder of a very happy life with her!
Damon: Some of your humor and style can be compared to Douglas Adams of ‘Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ fame, would you agree with that? What authors inspired you?
Christina: I would have to list Douglas Adams among my influences, and I am a big fan of Terry Pratchett. Also Tom Sharpe, Tom Holt, Esther Freisner and James Blish, who used to write the original Star Trek TV episodes from script into anthologies of short stories in the 1970’s. I grew up reading sci-fi greats like Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Harry Harrison and others too numerous to mention.
Damon: Tell us about a few of your favorite characters in your series. Do you share anything in common with them?
Christina: Mykl d’Angelo, the main character who appears in ‘Blachart’ and ‘Dead Beckoning’ is one. He’s a typical straight ‘good-guy’ hero type, who gets the girl and settles down and lives happily ever after… Although I wanted to be this, I never was – and so Mykl represents the ‘me’ that I was and wanted to be, aspired to be – but never materialized. Mykl d’Angelo was essentially a character based on the person I was when I was in high school – which is when I started writing that story! He befriends another character who is a gay man, and surprisingly, there is no judgement over sexuality.
The characters on the planet Deanna are my more likely favorites. People like Cindy-Mei Winter, Beck the Badfeller, Peg (the Sheriff of Atro City), General Smythe and his band of misfits from the Skegg’s Valley Dynamite Fishing Club, and of course, Fred – who all appear in the Quantum Series. They all have bits of me in them somewhere… except possibly Fred, who is a plant.
Damon: Do you address political and social issues in your fiction?
Christina: Absolutely. In most of my stories I use gay or transgender characters. Not always as the lead character, but where I feel it would be fitting, or fun, I do. In stories like ‘Black Sunrise’, ‘Dead Man’s Hammer’ and one or two others, there is a present transgender theme with at least one lead character, but I don’t feel it prevents readers who don’t understand transgender issues from enjoying the story. At least two of my lead characters in Blachart and Demonspawn are gay, and in ‘The Last Hurrah’ and ‘Overkill’ there are strong lesbian characters.
When I write about social issues I try hard not to hit the reader over the head with the issues, but I do try to reflect how for example, gay or transgender people are not as different from ‘ordinary folk’ as they might think! My stories are more about typical human problems, and about unifying society than separating people because of their differences.
Damon: Being a Sci-Fi writer, you are said to be very specific when it comes to the space ship instruments and weaponry. Have you done a lot of research involving this?
Christina: When I was at high school an English teacher once said something very similar about my writing – she said that I used terminology and descriptive terms with flair and apparent ease. I guess I could say I’ve always enjoyed reading and watching sci-fi and I’ve always had my own ideas on how things should be done. I have a background in computing, I served in the military, and I love history and research, so yes – I’ve also researched a lot about tech stuff and have a broad sense of how some things might work in a future setting.
The key with sci-fi stories though is to not give too much tech information to the reader. You have to make this stuff believable without getting wrapped up in explaining for three pages how a reflex furnace or transmatter platform works – the typical reader would get bored and lose interest in the story. The story needs to flow, so as a writer I cut the cackle and work around lengthy explanations and treat the tech as someone might write about a character using a cell phone today. Not quite that simplistic, but somewhere in between the two extremes, and that seems to work.
Christina Engela is the proud owner of a warped sense of humor, and it shows. She writes about aliens, space ships, big explosions and crypts, ghosts and vampires in the same books and in a way that makes all of these topics fit with each other without causing a melt-down or an inter-dimensional rift. She also enjoys sushi.
She has written the Galaxii Series and Quantum Series of novels, both in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre. Her story settings include starship situations and planetary locations, and her favorite planet to set her stories on is Deanna, where she expresses her own brand of fantasy combined with sci-fi. She loves to create characters and situations and to blend them with her past real life experiences and sometimes endearing (or not so endearing) parts of her real life acquaintances. For some reason this location lends itself to what she calls “quantum-ness” and for creating the unique characters around which her stories flow.
Her story universe is set many years in the future, possibly in a parallel dimension, where everything can be set right by a few characters with guts, heart and conscience, and an author with a warped sense of humor, a sharp pencil, even sharper wit, and a good sense of irony.
She lives in the city of Port Elizabeth, South Africa with the love of her life Kay, her dog Skippy and an old Beetle called Dolly.
You can find Christina on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ChristinaEngela/
You can find Christina’s books at The Crow Bar. https://christinaengela.wordpress.com/shop Paperback versions are available on Lulu.com and all E pub format books are now available on the Apple iTunes site.