Morgen Leigh Thomas, senior instructor of sociology at UCCS, researches, writes and teaches on sex, gender, sexuality and embodiment.
Her scholarly works center on non-mainstream body modification and intentional ordeals as rites of passage and reclamation. She is an award-winning commercial and documentary copywriter, copy editor and producer. She also conducts creative writing workshops on embodied communication for character development.
Thomas is a published author of fiction, creative nonfiction and journalistic works. She recently authored “bloodbrothers,” published in 2020 by Electric Zoo Media.
Thomas answered seven questions on her new book, a fictional story about two boys fighting for salvation, a deranged mother bent on domination and a final confrontation that will drag them all into the abyss.
1. If you were describing your book to someone outside of your field, what would you say?
In the small Oregon town of Cutters Grove, two friends lock horns as their lives speed in different directions. Eighteen-year-old Alex has it all figured out. An excellent student and violin prodigy, Alex is Juilliard-bound, his future bright. But the shocking suicide attempt of his best friend Joe spins Alex’s well-ordered life out of control.
In an attempt to save Joe, Alex embarks on a harrowing journey into their shared past, where he digs up hard truths, exposes raw memories and finally shoulders his long-abandoned guilt. While Alex struggles to hold his world together, Joe’s monstrous shadows grow over them both, pulling Alex into a dangerous and surreal world of Joe’s making. Locked in a war of wills, Alex must face his final choice: sacrifice his soul to save his friend…or allow Joe’s demons to consume them both.
2. How did you get the idea for your project?
When I was 19, I was talking with a friend and he shared a story of traumatic loss and the guilt he carried over it. He used self-harm and cutting as a way to mitigate his guilt and as a means of punishing himself for an event he had absolutely no control over. This one event, an accident that happened when he was 16, had derailed his developing sense of self and it was something he struggled with his entire life.
It raised questions in my mind about how we come to understand our truths and the stories we tell. I wanted to explore the horror of traumatic loss, so I wrote a short story for my creative writing class at Pikes Peak Community College about an 18-year-old kid struggling with guilt over his father’s death, and his best friend – his bloodbrother – who can feel his friend’s pain.
We hear about conjoined bodies, but what about conjoined souls? We hear about the hauntings of places, but what about the hauntings of self? How do we confront the most troubling parts of our life, knowing they inform our ways of knowing, being and doing in the world?
Over the decades, this little tale evolved into a paranormal psychological story about two young men who share a soul and a deep darkness. “bloodbrothers” is about these young men navigating trauma and coming to terms with loss and grief. It’s a difficult adventure, with horror elements, but there’s a whole lotta love and light, triumph and healing in this story as well.
3. Did your focus develop or change throughout the research and writing process?
It took me over 30 years to finish this book so, yes, the writing process as well as the story itself changed dramatically over time. As I matured and learned and grew through my own adversities, so did this little story and the characters to who drive it.
One thing I became very keen on was bringing to life my paternal great-grandmother. She was Chickasaw and I grew up hearing stories about her from my Pop and auntie, which stimulated my imagination to envision her in a certain way. I imagined what she might be like in modern times (the story is set in 1984) and imbued her with my father’s wisdom, compassion, sense of humor and knowing, and artistic skills. I knew these boys needed a sense of ground and safety, a guide as they navigated their pain and difficulties, and I thought Mary Whitewing would be the perfect person to both challenge and encourage them on their shared journey. Along the way, I learned a lot about my ancestor and I wanted to honor the strength and insight I believe my grandmother possessed. I hope I did okay.
4. Which idea do you write about that most excites, invigorates or inspires you?
I’ve always been fascinated by the darker sides of human behavior and psyche and how people cope with adversity, sometimes in maladaptive ways that end up saving their lives and minds. I’m intrigued by the social and psychological mechanisms of survival, the human capacity to both forget and remember ourselves. I read Sybil when I was 11 (much to the horror of my father!) and that sparked an interest in psychology, especially Jung’s concept of the ‘shadow self.’ Relatedly, I’m intrigued by stories of deep connection, healing and victory. I think these are some of the reasons I became a social psychologist. People and stories. People’s stories. They matter.
5. Describe your writing space. Where do you do your best work? What time of day? Do you have any writing routines you are willing to share?
I wrote this book over the course of three decades, mostly in the public library, Poor Richard’s Restaurant, and – long before I attended UCCS as a student and became a teacher – the UCCS Library. A couple of years after writing the short story, I married a man who was abusive and controlling. He would not allow me to write, so I had to sneak out to these welcoming, safe, and public spaces to work on my book.
After I left the marriage, I would wake up at 4:00 a.m. and write for a couple of hours before getting the kids ready for school and heading to work. Now I write at the sturdy oak table my Pop built before I was born. An added bonus to this long writing journey is that my son did all of the interior illustrations for “bloodbrothers.” It was a privilege to collaborate with him.
6. Is there a favorite quote or passage you want to showcase from the book?
“The damp air filled with a moaning freight train snarl. Twisted, grasping talons slashed at Alex’s skin, pulled at his arms, tore at his hair, leaving cuts and bruises that quickly vanished. Feet anchored, he flailed at the unearthly entities, unable to get enough air into his constricting lungs. The mirror opened, revealing a gaping, undulating throat-like tunnel. Joe stood at the opening of the cavernous pit, clear liquid splashing at his bare feet, wind whipping his long hair into a frenzy. Misty finger tendrils coiled around his body, pulling him closer to the spiral gullet. Joe lifted his hands and began walking toward the glass as though entranced. The familiarity of it all struck deep in Alex’s bowels. His bladder suddenly felt full. He yelled Joe’s name, still punching at the corporeal fog. It felt like a hundred crows dive-bombing him at once, stripping away bits of sanity a little at a time. He could feel clumps of hair leaving his head, skin peeling from his arms and face, all leaving no trace of the assault on his body. Then he heard Joe’s voice. ‘It’s okay, Al. I have to go now.'”
7. What new questions for future exploration have you discovered?
Oh, so many questions about all the things! I’m researching social-psychological info about deception to prepare for a summer class. I have a short memoir piece called “The Plan” coming out in an anthology in April. I’m currently working on a post-apocalyptic steampunk feminist story that examines the idea of “time” and how we conceive it, as well as a story about a combat photo-journalist navigating moral injury and finding his way back to connection with self and others. Thanks for this opportunity to share!
UCCS celebrates faculty and staff who author and edit books each year. In recognition of their achievement, and as part of the UCCS Author Spotlight initiative, authors are invited to submit details on their published works.