Interviews

Imagination beyond the ordinary, a conversation with Teresa McLaughlin

By Pramudith D Rupasinghe

I have always been fascinated by the Ancient Aliens theory. And, being a victim of child abuse during my entire childhood and adolescence, I struggled with finding solutions to the emotional pain left by that abuse..”

Teresa McLaughlin grew up in the brutal, racist, white supremacist southern United States near Tupelo, MS, Elvis Presley’s birthplace. She was a small child in the early 1960s, hearing her father and his friends make threats about Civil Rights workers, Black people, and women. As a small child, she found she was able to look through the fog of hypocrisy, abuse, and poverty in the adult world around her, and see who the real devils were.
Ms. McLaughlin turned inwards, creating a private world where she could find beauty and peace amid the brutality she witnessed. She studied singing and sang her whole life. She fell in love with Star Trek as a child. Consequently, in addition to degrees in technical fields, she had a career as Medieval singer, touring Europe several times, she worked with an LGBT country band for about 10 years, writing gender-specific songs, then, pursued a master’s degree in Information Assurance. 
After her transition from male to female in the late 2000s, Ms McLaughlin has pursued writing. She combined her love of science and technology with her love for art, ancient history, and sci-fi, by beginning her sci-fi series called, The Love of the Tayamni. The Asian Review is pleased to have Ms McLaughlin for exclusive author interview of the week. 

Q: You are an inspiring writer and a personality to many, can you tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer? 

A: I believe my interest in technology, history, and the arts has led me to love writing science fiction. I have a BS in math/computer science, and an MS in Information Assurance, but I also studied singing for many years. I formally studied the Authentic Performance Practice of ancient music at the Royal Conservatory at the Hague in the Netherlands. I drew pictures, mostly portraits, since I was very young. And, I have been a sci-fi fan since watching 1950s sci-fi on TV as a child. I have had professional careers as a medieval singer, a singer/songwriter, computer programmer, and cybersecurity specialist. All these interests have come together in the sci-fi series, The Love of the Tayamni.

I have always been fascinated by the Ancient Aliens theory. And, being a victim of child abuse during my entire childhood and adolescence, I struggled with finding solutions to the emotional pain left by that abuse. I found  two primary solutions to lessening this pain. One was, of course, a GREAT therapist. The other solution was spiritual. I am not a Christian and I do not follow any of the 3 Abrahamic religions, however, the spiritual solution was suggested to me by a Jesuit novice. He was a good friend. He recommended to me that I imagine God, not as male, but as female. He knew I had difficulty with male authority figures, since my father was the abuser. He recommended that I say the rosary (he gave me a rosary) while walking around in a circle, in a beautiful setting like a park. While walking around in the circle, he encouraged me to think of God as the Virgin Mary or the Goddess, or whichever pleasing female character I might like. So, I did. The interesting thing was, the great therapist combined with this meditative, spiritual work, helped lessen the pain. This was the only thing that worked. And, it worked immensely well. I am eternally grateful to my friend for helping me find this solution. 

Over the years since walking around in the circle, saying the rosary, my image of the Goddess morphed, changed, and found expression. I became fascinated by the image of Auset, the ancient Egyptian Goddess. We know her by her more popular, Greek name, Isis. 

My fascination with ancient history and with the Ancient Aliens theory, merged with my new found spiritual solution. When I decided to begin writing the series, all these interests just sort of came together, combining, merging, until The Love of the Tayamni spilled out. 

Q:You are known for sci-fi called Love of Tayamni. Can you tell our readers around the world, a little bit about the story. 

A: It is a story of a young woman who is brought up as a human at an ancient settlement on a sacred river. However, she rather suddenly is told, by her mother and sister, that she is not human. She begins to realize that her family, in fact her people are aliens from another star system. She is crushed by the realization that the life she wanted as a human woman, with a husband, children, growing old with people she loved, will never come to be. She is resentful as she is pressed into service to help humanity evolve, a duty she does not want to take on. The series consists of various missions the main character, Batresh, must conduct to help humanity. 

Q: Sometimes writers live in their stories, they unveil their own lives through their characters, what is your opinion about that? 

 A: I believe this statement is absolutely true. A visual artist works with a vision, sometimes of reality, as in drawing portraits, sometimes completely from the imagination. A musician or singer, interprets something someone else has written (most commonly) while a fiction writer cannot help but use herself as a subject. She imagines herself as various characters which can only be based on some experience she has had or a part of herself. These parts of herself may be mostly hidden from her, but through the various characters she creates, she reveals them to herself. There are several characters in the books that are based on various parts of me, Batresh, the main character, the Matriarch (her mother) and a young human boy, Denny Shields. 

Q: It is a very often heard that environment transforms people, is that true with your life? How has the environment where you grew up influenced on your writing? 

A: I agree with this statement as well. I was born in the late 1950s in Tupelo, Mississippi. So, I was a young child in the early 60s. I heard the adults around me talk about segregation, about the Civil Rights movement and especially about MLK. Mind you, I grew up in a very country, uneducated family. They were reactionary and racist. The horrible things they said about Black people cut into me like a knife. Growing up confused by my own identity, being severely beaten by my father repeatedly, I did not see myself as part of his culture. I didn’t want to be a part of his culture. I never felt an identification with the white, country, racist world around me. I heard the abusive things my father said about Black people and felt an identification with them. I knew they were abused, beaten, kept out of society. As a young child I saw similarities in the ways my father treated me and the things he said he wanted to do to Black people. Once when I was a very small child, I got lost in a department store in Tupelo. A woman came to me and took my hand to walk me to the front of the store. She was wonderful, sweet, kind, gentle. When she reached the counter at the store, my mother saw me and came to her to retrieve me from her. The white women were laughing. Somebody said, “He thought you were his Mama,” and the white women laughed harder. I couldn’t understand why they were laughing. The woman who found me looked at me, smiled and walked to the back of the store. When we were in the car, both of my parents made fun of the incident. I remember my parents talking about the woman who found me in the most insulting, derisive tones. It was that moment I remember thinking to myself, “I wish the black woman were my mother.” 

I knew I was not like the other children around me. I wanted to play with dolls and wear dresses. I didn’t begin to understand the ways I was different until adolescence. I knew Mississippi would be an unsafe place for me, so right after highschool, I fled. I have always felt an affinity with oppressed people. 

Q: As a widely read writer in the genre you represent, what is your opinion about the power of science fiction in social change? 

A: To answer this question, we can conveniently look at the influence of Star Trek. The first televised interracial kiss was in Star Trek, the first time gender nonconformity was dealt with in a popular television series was in Star Trek, The Next Generation. And now, in Star Trek Discovery, not only do we have the first time major characters are gay men, but they are married and romantic with each other. In the most recent season, the series introduces another regular character who is gender non-conforming. In the dedication pages of my series, I quote inspiring things science fiction writers have said. For example, in the first book I quote the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry saying, “…If we cannot learn to actually enjoy…small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.” Star Trek has created regularly recurring roles for Asian actors, Sulu in the original series, Keiko in Deep Space Nine, Harry Kim in Voyager. In a planned, upcoming spin off series from Discovery, the main character will be played by Michelle Yeoh, an Asian Captain. Science fiction is the PERFECT genre to deal with social change. Science fiction presents fantasy universes that do not exist (yet) in reality. So the genre can experiment and take on topics where other genres fear to tread. 

Q: It is said that a writer often expresses his/her feelings/thoughts and emotions through his/her characters (at various levels, of course). Do you think so? If yes, can you elaborate?

 A: In my series, I hope to present a vision of a better world, a world where, as Roddenberry says, differences between different species or races are appreciated, not feared. I also like to show that people can change. Characters can change. Someone once thought to be an enemy can become your ally. 

I also want to point out that, unlike theories put forth by social scientists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, humans are not naturally warlike. We are more like Bonobos than Chimpanzees. In fact, scientists have shown that when resources are adequate, chimpanzees become more like Bonobos, peace loving, Matriarchal. I believe humans are naturally the same. When resources are scarce, humans deal with competition in aggressive, unhealthy ways. When resources are adequate we can have female presidents, prime ministers and even female ministers of defense. And as social scientists theorize today, gender and sexual minorities’ rights are linked to women’s rights. 

Humans were successful during our early evolution because of our tendency to share resources, to care for those who are weaker than ourselves. This is who we are. These are the messages I want to convey in the series.

Q: Getting your first book published is not an easy job. And, almost every author has to pass through a difficult time for his/her first piece of writing to get published. Can you share your experience about that?

A:  Yes, the writer of the incredibly successful sci-fi novel, The Martian, self published his book. Andy Weir received so many rejections he decided to self publish. It was only after the movie with Matt Damon was received with wild acclaim that a publisher sought him out. I don’t compare my writing to Mr. Weir’s, but after receiving about 15 rejections, I decided to wait, and allow the publishers to come to me. Smiles. I am self published. 

Q: What can your readership expect in the near future? Can you tell us a bit about it? 

A: Yes, I have several “irons in the fire,” as they say. (1) I am working with Pamala Hall who is writing a beautiful, powerful, dramatic script for a movie version of the first book. (2) I am also working on an audiobook version of the first book with an acclaimed actor, Jack Klaff. He has narrated several books and his voice is remarkable, incredibly expressive and beautiful. (3) And I am working on the 4th book of the series. When it is complete, there will be 8 books in all. 

Q: Are there any authors you admire deeply, and why?

A:I respond most immediately to beautifully written prose. I love Octavia Butler’s style. She is my favorite. But, I also love N. K. Jemisin’s style and creative stories. Those two are my favorite writers.  

Q: If you were given a change to select one among the three books for a film, what would you choose and why? 

A: I believe each book in the series relies on the stories and messages of prior books. However, I recently took a second look at the 3rd book of the series, Shaare Emeth: The Gates of Truth, and now I think that one, at least, can stand on its own. I would choose the first book of the series. Since this book is currently the source for a script and movie, I have to agree that it is the most logical choice. The 4 main characters of the series are introduced in the first book. We get to know their origins and motivations. Also, the whole universe, the world in which the rest of the series exists, is introduced in the first book. 

Q: Aside from writing, what are your interests? What do you like to do to unwind?

A: As I said earlier I am very interested in ancient history. I have created the world in which the main character, Batresh, grows up on a virtual platform called Second Life. In fact, your audience can go there for free and take a look. It is called Sekhem. Right now, on Second Life, we have 3 simulated environments, all different parts of Sekhem. There is also a floating city in the clouds called Sippar. I use these environments along with various avatars I have created to make illustrations that publicize the books. I use the illustrations in videos, slide shows, that illustrate each of the books. In fact, your audience can navigate to YouTube.com and search for “The Love of the Tayamni” to find these slide shows. 

Q: What is your opinion on the need for people to engage in the creation (or consumption) of the literary arts amidst the ongoing, and rather stressful, COVID-19 pandemic?

A: The pandemic has required that we all stay home as much as possible. In a sense our homes have become fortresses. Some of us are lucky enough to live with people but others must spend a lot of time alone. We must keep our minds and our spirits engaged, busy, and interested during this time of isolation. Otherwise we can fall into despair. I think the consumption of, or creation of literary arts take us out of ourselves. We can voyage to distant parts of our galaxy, to different time periods, and different dimensions. We can talk with different people, even different species. Through the consumption of literature, we can remain engaged and active. To unwind I create, or modify these environments on Second Life. I also listen to my favorite, Minimalist compositions. I especially love the composers Max Richter, Luke Howard, and Olafur Arnalds.

Q: What is your message to budding authors around the world?

A: My advice is to write about what interests you. Find things you love, worlds you would like to create. People those worlds with characters that interest you. Don’t write to please anyone but yourself. There are lots of other people who will be interested in the same things you are. Those are the people you should write for.

Categories: Interviews

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