Christina Engela – also known as Chrissy, ‘T’ or Tina, and by several other names in various communities and subcultures, both online and offline, has always been something of a lurker in the grand scheme of things.
Being of the INTJ ‘mastermind’ persuasion tends to have that effect on people who speak less, and observe and write more. Looking considerably younger than her age also tends to result in people misjudging and underestimating her, usually to their peril.
She writes in the science-fiction/fantasy genre, and has already 8 complete novels to her name. Her Galaxii Series was picked up by J Ellington Ashton Press (JEA) in August 2014, and the first title in the series, ‘Blachart’ was re-released by JEA on Oct 29, 2014. The rest are due out starting in 2015.
She has quite a lot of diverse experience to draw upon in her writing, having been a soldier with the South African Army for 17 years – with all the diverse experience such service brings. She has been a human rights activist, being at the head of two South African LGBT civil rights groups (for a time concurrently) since 2008 and until 2011. She presently heads one LGBT rights group (SA GLAAD) and is a member of the Executive of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA). She is a strong defender of freedom of religion, separation of religion and state interests, and also the right to freedom from religion.
She indulges in research into alternative religions, lifestyles and subcultures, and as Chief Researcher for the Alternative Religions Forum (ARF) she has rubbed elbows with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Freemasons, Satanists, Luciferians, Pagans, Witches, Vamp(y)ires, Goths and Emos – and other people marginalized and persecuted in South Africa’s recent love affair with Satanic Panic Hysteria.
Between 2009 and 2010 she got her feet wet in local politics, being Secretary for three local councils and committees at once – almost becoming a candidate Ward Councilor for a local party during the 2010 municipal elections for her area in the process. After that she bowed out, ending her 2-year involvement – fortunately without getting any dirt under her fingernails.
Christina 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. Surprisingly, she says she writes from experience. She also enjoys sushi.
Blog (Official Author Site) The Crow Bar
Blog (Activism) Sour Grapes: The Fruit of Ignorance
Christina’s column on Litnet
Christina’s column on Penton Independent Alternative Media
Co-ordinator & Researcher for the Alternative Religions Forum
“Blachart” – the first in the Galaxii Series by Christina Engela – 130 pages of awesome sc-fi/fantasy! -click here to buy this book.
Q: What genre(s) do you write in and why?
A: I write my own blend of science fiction and fantasy… mostly because I have always loved sci-fi – growing up watching Star Trek made me look at the future hopefully, but I also enjoyed vampire flicks and novellas when I was a teen. I think combining the two – along with my own take on LGBT characters, enriches the experience. Life is not as two-dimensional and simple as Hollywood generally portrays it to be.
Q: How do you begin a novel?
A: I type the words “Imagine, if you will:” and take it from there.
Q: You start all your novels off with the words ‘Imagine, if you will:’. Why is that?
A: This is how I start each of my novels in the Galaxii Series, it’s my signature in a way. It’s like saying ‘long, long ago’ or ‘once upon a time’ – except those were already taken. I really do enjoy my writing. I love my characters, and I pour my soul, my passion and my heart into the words I smith, as in the worlds I create. When I write, I tell stories, and I speak directly to the reader, to the heart and mind of the reader, and I want them to ‘get’ every innuendo, every intention, and every hint both in the words – and between the lines.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
A: I started writing stories almost as soon as I was old enough to grasp a pen. I grew up wanting to be a writer, most probably because of being around my dad – whose short stories appeared in local magazines in the 1950’s, later dramatized on a national radio station (Springbok Radio) in the 1960s and 70’s (GM on Safari & I’ll Tell You A Tale) and on the occasional repeats running through the 1970’s and early 80’s.
Q: Why do you spell ‘Galaxy’ as ‘Galaxii”?
A: Why not? Haha. It started when I was a kid writing compositions and school essays – I would turn every assignment into something to do with sci-fi, because that was what I was most comfortable writing about. The teachers all said I had a ‘flair’ for using sci-fi terminology and actually for making things up as I went along. ‘Galaxy’ seemed awfully plain and dull to me, and so I thought, why not spice it up a little – hence ‘Galaxii’.
Q: Tell me about how the Galaxii Series started out?
A: The Galaxii series started as a series of false-starts while I was at high school. At that time I learned to master writing effective and sci-fi short stories with whole plots, interesting enough to captivate the reader… but writing longer ones was for some time beyond me. Then, one day in 1988, something clicked into place (and not for the last time), and the Galaxii series was born.
I began to churn out draft after draft of titles in the novel series that would become the stories my readers will recognize today. I call them ‘drafts’ but at the time I thought they were ‘done’… but, being a perfectionist, I was always redrafting and revisiting my work – something much harder to do in the days before PC’s, and I still have boxes of old note books and papers covered in sketches in my basement – the remains of earlier drafts that were long ago digitized.
However, I longed to write from experience, and for a long time, I remained too “young” to get it all on paper. It took me until 2003 before my writing matured and settled into a recognizable style – and of course, having heaps of life experiences obtained in the interceding years, made for much more realistic and I think interesting reading!
Q: So what is the backstory of the Galaxii Series?
A: The Galaxii Series is set in what might be considered the not too distant future, perhaps in a parallel dimension, and is marked by my own special warped and twisted sense of humor and irony. It also includes some elements of the fantasy genre, such as vampires (which show up in some of the short stories and the later titles, which are still in process). I may also be accused to a degree of moralizing or even attempting a form of human rights advocacy through my writing… since as an individual I have a strong sense of fairplay and social justice – but then, as an Aquarian, I have a right to be weird – and it is a “write” I exercise frequently!
What really crystallized my vision of the series was writing Black Sunrise – because that is where I hit upon the perfect, PERFECT setting for my characters and the situations I wanted to create. No longer would they need to be confined to the same old setting of a starship as I had done in the past… That was far too limiting, and now I had the freedom to do ANYTHING with them! If Deanna is the world that set my writing spirit free, then Ding and Dong really put the Ramalama into my song!
Q: What other books are in the Galaxii Series?
A: The Galaxii series consists of the following titles in sequence:
03 Dead Beckoning
04 Space Sux (a compilation of short stories in the same timeline)
05 Black Sunrise
06 The Time Saving Agency
07 Dead Man’s Hammer
Q: There are 8 titles in the Galaxii Series (the first of which was only re-released by JEA in October 2014) – do you have plans for any more?
A: Of course! Aside from the 8 current titles, there are several unfinished books still in the works. This year has been hectic, especially since August when I got signed with JEA! Soon afterwards, I was kept busy with removing all 7 (then) self-published versions from the old POD site they were on, re-formatting the manuscripts to send them to my Editor for processing – all while finishing off the eighth novel, ‘Dead Beckoning’ (which has never been released before). While working with the Editors and cover designers at JEA on the JEA release of ‘Blachart’, I also managed to finish a further 4 completly new short stories, and made significant progress on the ninth novel ‘The Last Hurrah’. There’s still a lot more where that came from!
Q: In your first novel ‘Blachart’, Mykl d’Angelo meets the “woman of his dreams”. Is this character based only on the type of person d’Angelo would like or is it deeper?
A: This is one of the first stories I started working on as a writer, beginning in the 1980’s when I was at high school. Of course the draft that became the version of Blachart that was just published (which first became recognizable as it is now, in 1998) is nothing at all like that first attempt all those years ago. The characters changed and evolved, their names changed, the situations morphed from child-like 2 dimensional representations into more realistic 3 and 4 dimensional experiences. As I grew and evolved, so did the way I told the story, and so did the way I felt about, interpreted or experienced the characters.
Mykl is a typical straight ‘good-guy’, 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 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 – and his lost love whom he rekindles a relationship with in the story, was based on a girl I knew at high school, who was a high school crush that went wrong. The experiences related in the story are not exactly what happened, but I think you will gather that 😉
To answer your original question, yes, ‘Ripley’ is the girl I was attracted to at the time I originally wrote the story! She is driven, ambitious, efficient, a powerful woman – but in the beginning of their re-acquaintance, Mykl views her through the lens of his hurtful past experiences with her, focusing on her mannerisms, considering her a ‘teacher’s pet’ etc, and of course, reliving his own pain.
As time wore on, and my experiences in life, both good and bad, continued to shape and sculpt me into the person I became, my perception of self changed – and I began to more gradually resemble Blachart than d’Angelo as a personality. At the time I was also beginning to understand and to accept my sexuality and gender issues, and so in some ways the character of Blachart was the catalyst for me to express myself first in terms of a gay male, and then to understand that this did not quite suit who I was inside, and to embrace my transgender-ness. Essentially, Blachart represents the beginning of my life’s journey into the adult universe.
Q: In ‘Blachart’, who is the main character?
A: That’s a very good question. I’d like to say it’s Mykl d’Angelo, but it’s not. It’s a combination of Mykl d’Angelo AND his (at first) nemesis, Blachart. At first glance they are mirror-opposites, good and evil, and as the story progresses the reader gets to see that they are not all that different underneath the surface.
Q: What was difficult about penning this?
A: I finished the final draft of this story – on paper – right about the time of my wedding. I was still living a male life, and so it reflected my thoughts and feelings in the position I was in then. When I got round to revising it on a PC in 2003, it was in the middle of my new life – I was single again, and living a female life, facing a lot of hostility and drama… so again, it was full of those feelings and emotions.
Q: What is difficult for you as a writer?
A: For me it’s always about time. There aren’t enough hours in a day to get to everything that I need to get done. I have a full-time day job, and on top of that I need to give attention to my human rights advocacy commitments – as well as to the people in my private life. It can be pretty demanding and draining. In the midst of this, just finding quiet time without a phone ringing or an email alert to work on whatever story I’m working on – and to still have the energy and mental focus to do it, can be something of a miracle.
Q: What is the best part about being a writer?
A: “Writing is the most fun anyone can have by themselves” – Terry Pratchett. <- This is very true indeed! Writing can be very therepeutic and also entertaining. It’s like painting – afterwards, you sit back and appreciate what you’ve done in a warm afterglow. Oh wait, perhaps that’s something else… Er… Also, when someone seriously pisses me off, it’s fun to base certain characters on them – and then make them miserable, or to just kill them off. Or bring them back Bobby Ewing style and do it again. Face it, when you write, you create worlds and people. The Author is a god.
Q: How did you begin your career?
A: In 1989 my poetry and a composition appeared in the school year book. Encouraged by this small success, I looked for contests to enter. In 1991 I entered a poetry anthology and one of my short stories in a writing contest in my city. At the close of the contest, my entries were returned covered in red-inked criticism, and I found out first-hand why my father had referred to the group hosting the contest as ‘a bunch of ignorant, untalented old farts who invite entries so they can rip the writers to pieces and laugh about it over tea and crumpets’. Only members of the group ever won their contests, so I don’t know why they bothered, except they might have had a special arrangement with the corner shop for tea and crumpets. Not exactly a great start, I know – but when I look back, they’re all dead now.
Q: What advice do you have for new writers?
A: Don’t put your work on free sites unless you plan on not making money out of them in future. I made that mistake and while it got my name and my titles and early drafts of my books out there, it caused trouble for me when seven years later I got a publishing contract and I went to remove them from the one or two sites I had given permission to host them on. That was when I found out that these items had been downloaded, shared, uploaded and rehosted on forums, and on other free ebook sites right around the world! I certainly got around. It took quite a bit of work to get them taken down, but I think this makes my point. It’s okay to make one or two items available free – but not all of them.
Q: What writer(s) inspire you and why?
A: Terry Pratchett. The man is a genius. Not only does he have comedic timing, wit, subtext, sub-plots and 4-dimensional characters going, but he has a way of telling a beautiful, entertaining story that either leaves one gasping for breath, or sobbing. He tells HUMAN stories in a way that appeals to anyone intelligent and mature enough to grasp them – and even if you read his stories a hundred times over, something else that you missed last time will find you.
Q: What book(s) do you wish you could have written?
A: The Vampire Chronicles, Harry Potter, or one of those massively popular series that everyone wants to read, talk about and make into movies!
Q: Do you write for yourself or for readers?
A: I write my stories for my own enjoyment. I market and promote my writing for other’s enjoyment. Getting paid for it would be a plus.
Q: Do you ever use dreams/nightmares as a basis for writing?
A: Yes, sometimes. A recurring dream sequence described in ‘Sabertooth Dreams’ – a story I haven’t completed yet, features in the story in a big way as part of the plot. You will have to wait and see how that turns out!
Q: What is difficult/frustrating about writing or being a writer?
A: The publishing industry being in the middle of a transition from exclusively print to a curious combination of e-book and print on demand. This leaves most new authors at the mercy of the extortionist vanity press who demand huge sums of money (even bigger in play-money when you don’t live in the USA or Euro-Disney) to print your books and even more just to market them for you as an indie author. Approaching traditional publishers – specifically the huge mainstreamers and big names in publishing – to review or consider your work for publication, is more difficult than making an appointment to see God. I am hopeful that the old publishers will have to catch up with new houses like JEA soon, where print is an ‘on-demand’ option, and not a mainstay. Come on man, save the trees. Publishers can still make money on ebooks. More ebooks, more money.
Q: Have you had a strange fan experience?
A: Yes actually – a few years ago, I found amazing reviews of some of my books left by a fan. I wanted to thank him for the reviews, but couldn’t trace him. After a few years, he contacted me on Facebook. Now he’s still one of my biggest fans – and also one of my Editors!
Q: What work of yours was enjoyable to pen?
A: The trilogy of ‘Black Sunrise’, ‘The Time Saving Agency’ and ‘Dead Man’s Hammer’ was a mad rush. Not because of deadlines, but because I couldn’t keep up with my imagination. I wrote all three drafts in 2 months in 2005. It was so much fun that I just couldn’t stop. One story just flowed into the next, and the characters, plot, gags and scenes just about wrote themselves. When it all ended, I was so finished I didn’t write again till the following year when I wrote ‘Loderunner’!
This year I wrote a short story called ‘Space Vacation’ and I never expected it to run for 41 A4 pages and over 14,000 words! My usual length for short stories is around 3,000 words. It was so enjoyable I almost cried when it was finished. I am still thinking about a sequel, and not just because friends who read it, keep asking!
Q: What 3 words describe your writing?
A: Off. The. Wall.
Q: Which actors/actresses would you love to see in a movie version of your works?
A: I don’t have any specific actors in mind – but if any movie versions of my works are ever made, I would insist on suitable unknown and talented transgender actors to play my transgender characters.
Q: What is a genre you will never write in and why?
A: Romance. I need to write in a setting or genre that appeals to me. Romance novels, that is, the ‘pure’ romance items, and not just novels in other genres where romance is just a sub-plot, just seem so pointless, bland and boring to me.
Q: Do you like to write a series or stand alones? Why?
A: Series. I usually grow fond of my characters and like to re-use or revisit them.
Q: Who, of your characters do you most want to hang out with?
A: The vampires, of course! LOL. Actually, Blachart is quite the appealing character to me, something like a ‘dark’ James Bond type. Cindy-Mei Winter (from Black Sunrise) is quite sweet. Fred is just amazing, for a walking talking plant.
Q: How did Blachart get its title?
A: Originally Blachart was called ‘Overkill’ and then ‘Right To Die’. I felt those were a little too heavy for the story, and changed it back in 1991, and it’s been ‘Blachart’ ever since.
Q: How do you pick names for characters and which ones are you fond of?
A: I love to make up names, and to spell names differently – which works really well in sci-fi. Sometimes I notice odd or unusual names in the credits on TV shows and add them to a database list I keep for things that inspire me. Sometimes though, I just get struck by inspiration at 100 KPH – which is how the cruise liner in Dead Man’s Hammer, ‘Ossifar Distana’, got its name.
Q: Have you ever written real people into books?
A: Yes – a particularly nasty ex-girlfriend wound up separated from her head in ‘Dead Man’s Hammer’. Actually, most of my characters are based on real people – or rather, different parts of real people, if that makes any sense.
Q: Do you outline and plan or wing a book?
A: A bit of both. I generally have a rough outline in mind and it forms and evolves as I write it. In the beginning I used to make notes before I started, but as a result I have about seven bulging lever arch files stuffed with notes and odd-shaped bits of paper covered in weird scrawl from ideas I had at the bus stop, in class, or at 2am while asleep. Nowadays I just wing it. Once again, save the trees, man.
Q: Which of your works ended differently than you anticipated?
A: Most of them, really. I tend to imagine the beginning of a story, and the middle, before writing. I only get clarity about the end somewhere in the middle, and it becomes like a destination on a journey and the plot-points are like points on the map I have to navigate by.
Q: Do your covers matter?
A: Yes, most definitely. They promote the contents of the book to the audience and to the book sellers and the buyers. When I self-published, I designed my own covers and cover-art, and I was quite happy with them. JEA has some really talented cover-designers on staff and I’m thrilled to bits about the new cover for ‘Blachart’.
Q: Do you get “writer’s block”?
A: Not at all. I find if I get some rest, eat lots of fiber and sometimes a few prunes, I get over it real fast.
Q: Will you be prolific/ are you?
A: Yes, of course! I’ve completed 8 novels, ten short stories, nearly 300 poems, almost 1000 advocacy articles, 3 advocacy-related books and a 530 page academic document – all since 2005. The fact that my head hasn’t exploded yet is a bonus.
Q: What is your goal as a writer?
A: Oh, the usual – live forever, stay young, keep writing, change some lives for the better, make a difference – and hopefully, get paid some along the way.
Q: Do bad reviews bother you?
A: An activist friend once told me ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’. While it may sting a little, criticism is part of the game. Critics don’t always know what they’re talking about – and as a human rights activist I still have piles of hate-mail and criticism for my advocacy work, articles and so on – and it’s worth reading through for a bit of a laugh. If the right people hate you, it means you’re doing something right… but that’s activism. In activism, you are a finger-pointer and you need to be appealing to the demographic you are representing. In writing novels, you need to be as desirable to as many people across the board as possible – from a marketing perspective, that is. That means bad reviews will probably hurt your sales and reputation. Of course, I might just be the kind of wackjob who would place a review calling my work ‘the worst crap ever’ in a prime spot on my front page, bragging that so-and-so said it is THE worst ever and try to use it to my advantage.
Q: What do you wish to learn?
A: Everything. History, religion, science, anthropology, archaeology, why did the chicken cross the road etc. Why do you think I created the Time Saving Agency? They know everything about – well, everything.
Q: Which books have been grueling to write?
A: All of them, really. Writing a book isn’t EASY. It might be relatively easy when compared to say, sawing off your own leg – but it takes a lot of time, effort, concentration, focus and experience to deliver something that other people will ‘get’, appreciate and cherish. Otherwise they might take one look at it and say ‘well this is crap’ and move on. The most difficult ‘grueling’ book I’ve ever written was ‘Blachart’ because it was my first ‘real’ novel, after only writing short stories up to that point. All in all, it took from 1986 to 1998 to get to the point where I could actually write something worthwhile that was longer than a short story. The final redraft in 2003, when I revised it as I typed it into a PC, was an exercise in blood, sweat and tears.
Q: Do you research books?
A: Sometimes I will research facts when I need to refer to them in a story. For example, names of stars, parts of the Martian surface, such as I referred to in ‘Loderunner’ when Timaset Skooch was visiting relatives in Mars City (the ones he didn’t know he had). It’s not that hard these days – Google is your friend. I also like to keep up with new developments in space exploration, technology etc. When I first started writing sci-fi, mobile phones, laptops and GPS and other things we think of as common-place now, didn’t exist yet.
Q: What obstacles have you overcome to be a strong writer. What influenced you?
A: So many. Writing got me through a lot of my personal tragedies. When I went through my gender transition, a particularly devastating relationship meltdown and break-up, and my mother’s death, it was writing that kept me going. For that reason I believe there is a lot of therapeutic good in writing. Of course, that might also mean that my writing could contain a good deal of Freudian symbolism, but that’s okay – I never bought into Freud anyway. Generally, if people want to get to know me, I’m pretty much inside my books.
Q: What do you enjoy when you’re not writing?
A: I like to watch movies at home with my friends, go for Sunday breakfast runs on a bike, socialize with friends and family at gatherings – and of course, my advocacy.
Q: You are a transgender woman, born male. How did that affect you while growing up?
A: When I was very young, about 3 I think, I remember being unhappy with my sex. Even then I knew I wanted to be a girl. I also found out from a very young age that people around me did not appreciate a boy acting like a girl, and that such things were not spoken about unless in the manner of a tasteless joke or disparaging remark. School was very difficult for me. While I was in high school at 17 I knew then I wanted to do the whole gender reassignment thing – and back then there was no information on sex change, just sensational articles in the YOU mag and on the back page of the Sunday Times. It was a taboo subject just to be gay, let alone wanting to change sex! I dreaded going to the army (conscription) when I left school, I hated being forced to be one of the “men”. I wanted desperately to be female and to express my feminine side and to be myself. I hated having to live a lie all my life.
Q: You are an activist for Human rights and have been closely involved with two GLBTI rights groups, SA GLAAD and ECGLA. How did you get involved in these groups? And for those who do not know what are these groups all about?
A: SA GLAAD was founded by a group of people who were not really activists before the Jon Qwelane issue popped up in 2008. I was one of the founding members, and took the role of media liaison. SA GLAAD is mostly focused on defamation and discrimination cases, and since the Qwelane issue began, most of our work has been to refer cases of unfair labour practice or discrimination to relevant human rights lawyers etc. Over time, other members came and went, and I more or less took the leading role of the group. We expanded, founding small groups in different cities across SA. Over time though, I suppose through lack of a challenge, these smaller groups faded away, but the main body has endured to deal with the occasional incident of homophobia or transphobia.
ECGLA was a group I joined in Port Elizabeth in March 2009. It is more of a support association rather than an advocacy group. I moved up rather quickly, first to Vice President in June of that year, and then to President by the close of 09. Since then, as Director, I guided the growth of the group to the point where it had funding, office facilities, an NPO registration, ties with local private organisations and local government. I resigned from ECGLA at the end of 2011 just after we had successfully hosted the very first Pride event in PE, attended by over 5000 people. I was beginning to feel the strain of too many hours doing activism, and not enough time not doing activism.