Archive for November, 2013

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When I was younger, I was fascinated by beasts, both real and mythical. As a teenager, discovering werewolves and vampires was a natural progression, but I found the more classical representation of vampires…wanting. Lestat and his crew were all too Fae, and the abominations that followed were so much worse that I checked out with vampires for a while. Then, when I was 16, a co-worker handed me a bag full of books at my desk where I was working as a receptionist in a Nursing Facility. At the top of the pile was a thick, weathered book called “Midnight Blue: The Sonja Blue Collection.”

 

I cracked it open first, and quickly forgot about the other books in the bag for a very, very long time. The chronologically ordered compilation includes the stories, “Sunglasses After Dark,” “In The Blood,” and “Paint it Black.” I cracked the book, and honestly don’t remember the next week, which was how long it took me to devour the book around my work schedule.

 

 I’d never seen such unique and aggressive characters, such a new and addicting spin put on such an old creature. Sonja Blue was an interesting character in that her body never properly died, rendering her an anomaly in her world. I find it interesting that her still being technically ‘alive’ in parts serves as a tidy metaphor for a character that breathes new life into such an archaic monster, the vampire.

 

Missing is the usual morose self pity, the pathetic grappling with the nature of their thirst, the ache to be human again that overwhelms any potentially interesting dialogue in the story. In its place, insert a healthy dose of self loathing in place of self pity, homicidal rage (complete with another personality to handle the REALLY dirty shit,) in place of whining, and savage efficiency and resilience in place of, oh, I don’t know, sparkles?

 

Not that Ms. Collins is limited to vampire tales! In fact, one of my favorite stories of hers is a short story from her collection entitled, “Avenue X.” It’s a particularly gruesome tale of revenge called “Furies in Black Leather.” It is NOT for the weak of stomach. I also highly endorse tales like, “Tender Tigers,” (an ogre Drama,) and “The Nonesuch Horror,” (a supernatural Western thriller.)

 

I have a category reserved for artists like Nancy Collins, one I call, ‘Buy on Faith.’ The list is tiny, less than five, and is comprised of artists (music or author,) whose work I can always trust to be so good I don’t need to know anything else about it before I gladly buy and devour it.

 

 I hope you all enjoy reading this interview as much I loved doing it! If you haven’t yet, do yourselves a favor and snag any one of her amazing stories, you really can’t go wrong, and she’s got something for everyone. 

 

EM- How much of you exists in Sonja Blue?

 

NC- I’d say there’s a fair amount—my rather dark sense of humor, for one, and my low tolerance for BS is readily on display in her personality.

 

EM- The ‘Other’ is a fascinating creature, what inspired her? Is she meant to be a reverse conscience?

 

NC- The Other is an ambiguous character. While it most definitely ‘exists’ within Sonja, the question is whether it is a separate being—a genuine vampiric/demonic entity—or her own id given voice and awareness. Or perhaps it is a combination of both? As for what inspired The Other, probably my childhood and teen-aged viewings of such classics as The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil.

 

EM- Where did the ‘proper’ species names for the Pretending races come from?

 

NC- A lot of the names come from ancient mythology, foreign languages, etc. The term vargr, for example, comes from the Norse and refers to not just wolves, but a supernatural species of wolf, so I thought would be a natural name that werewolves would call themselves. The term ulfr, which refers to werewolf/natural wolf hybrids is a Proto-German word meaning ‘wolf’ and can be found in various forms in Scandinavian and Germanic languages today. The term esau, which refers to human cannibals of werewolf heritage who are incapable of shapeshifting, comes from the Bible. In particular Genesis 27:11 ‘And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man.’ The kitsune come from the Japanese folktales of magic, shape-shifting foxes of that name, and the enkidu, the name for the vampires, comes from the story of Gilgamesh, where Enkidu was a lesser version of the epic hero. I picked it in order to suggest that vampires are not actually the person whose body they walk around in, but a corrupted approximation of humanity. The vampires calling their psychic minions Renfields, as fuck-you to Dracula, was my personal sense of humor, as it’s obvious in my world that the Pretenders aren’t above enjoying a joke at humanity’s expense.  And as for fire elementals being called pyrotics, I completely pulled that one out of my ass.

 

EM- In the short story, ‘Knifepoint’, you reveal the origin of Sonja Blue’s infamous blade, and in doing so, paint an amazing, bloody picture of Gods and Devils at war. When did you first take interest in ancient cultures, and where do you think the Sonja Blue saga would be without the influence of Kali?

 

NC- I’ve had a lifelong fascination with folklore, legends and myth, thanks to my Great Aunt Lucille, who I never met (she died a few months before I was born), but who bequeathed her personal library of Greek and Rome literature to my mother (my great aunt was a Latin teacher  and ancient history scholar). I grew up reading her copy of Bullfinch and other books on heroes and gods. If I had never heard of Kali, then Sonja Blue would probably would have been an avatar of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet (the lioness-headed warrior-goddess who got drunk on the blood of her enemies), the Greek goddess of divine retribution known as Nemesis, the Norse battle-goddess Sandraudiga (She Who Dyes the Sand Red), or the Celtic goddess of fury, Badb. 

 

EM- What are some of your favorite songs to listen to while you write?

 

NC- I don’t normally listen to music with lyrics when I work, as it distracts me. I tend to listen to soundtracks and instrumentals instead. I particularly enjoy listening to Robert Rodriquez’s original soundtracks to Sin City and Planet Terror, as well as Bernard Hermann’s assorted scores and compositions by Philip Glass. I also enjoy listening to jazz by Cal Tjader, etc and atmospheric classical music.   

 

EM- You’ve written both Comics, and Novels, do you have any preferences for either medium, and if so, what are they?

 

NC- I enjoy working in both mediums. Each has their strong points and drawbacks. I’m just now getting back into comics after nearly two decades away, and I’m enjoying the change of pace. Of the two, although both rely on the author’s ability to plot & pace  a story and create believable, interesting characters, I would say the writer does a lot more heavy-lifting in novels, as you are 100% dependent on creating the mood, scenery, etc. through descriptive passages, where in comics the artist shoulders that responsibility.

 

EM- What are your top five favorite old horror movies?

 

NC- I’m not exactly sure what qualifies as “old” anymore, but I’m going to assume that means ‘not-made-in-this-century’.

 

1. The Haunting (1963)

 

2. Santa Sangre  (1989)

 

3. Curse of the Werewolf  (1961)

 

4. Psycho (1960)

 

5. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

 

EM- I also see a lot of western influence in your work, how much of that was shaped by environment, and how much by pop culture influence?

 

NC- It was both nature and nurture. One of my ancestors on my mother’s side of the family actually ran off from home as a kid to join up with Butch Cassidy and the Hole InThe Wall gang, and his father had to ride out and bring him back. The kernel of that family story was the basis of The Tortuga Hill Gang’s Last Ride

 

When I was a kid cowboys and westerns were still king, and were as popular and prevalent as zombies and Star Wars are now. I grew up watching John Wayne movies. Hell, my father was *named* after John Wayne. My maternal grandmother was related to Jesse James. My Great Aunt Verna’s husband was a half-Cherokee rodeo rider, and there’s Native American blood on both sides, albeit strained through a hell of a lot of Scotch-Irishmen.  My family religiously watched Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Big Valley, etc. And I also enjoyed the genre-bending stuff, like Wild, Wild West and Kung-Fu. But where my father’s generation was into the Lone Ranger, Red Ryder and Roy Rogers, I cut my teeth on spaghetti westerns and revisionist westerns like Little Big Man, Jeremiah Johnson and Lonesome Dove. One of my favorite horror novels is a western by Cormac McCarthy called Blood Meridian.

 

EM– Who has been the most influential person in your life?

 

NC- My Grandfather Willoughby was a huge influence on me, as he pretty much introduced me to horror cinema and fantastic fiction. He was a huge fan of Boris Karloff, as well as Lon Chaney Sr. One of his best friends was the manager of the local Malco Theater, who also happened to be the vice-president of the chain. Because of that, he had the ability to run old movies during the week nights. One night would be old westerns, another musicals, etc. One night was always old horror movies, and my grandfather would take me with him to watch them. So, unlike most Americans my age, I actually saw Frankenstein, Dracula, etc for the first time on a big screen. My earliest memory is of watching Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and being so scared during the scene where Lou Costello is strapped to a gurney and being spun around between the Monster and the Wolf Man I hid behind the seat in front of me. I was probably 4 at the time. My grandfather was also a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and he made sure I got copies of Tarzan and the John Carter of Mars series when I was 10.

 

EM- What’s up next for Sonja Blue?

 

NC- I’m working on Kill City, the first Sonja Blue novel in well over a decade. I had an Indiegogo campaign for it last year that didn’t quite make its goal, but I’m currently working on it between paying gigs. I hope to have it finished by mid-late 2014 and plan to release it myself via my Hopedale Press imprint.  Also, IDW will be releasing the revised & re-colored Sunglasses After Dark graphic novel sometime in Spring 2014. I wrote it and it’s drawn by Stan Shaw, who also went back and digitally recolored his original art. This will be the first time it has been collected as a graphic novel, as it first appeared as a 6-issue mini-series from Glenn Danzig’s Verotik Publications in 1995-1996. It looks amazing, and Stan has really outdone himself. 

 

Thank you so much for your time and amazing, inspiring stories, Ms. Collins! It was an honor and a pleasure!

 

Erin…

 

More information (including bibliography! Happy hunting!!);

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_A._Collins

 

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(Photo Courtesy of Trisha @ You Know You Have EDS When on Facebook!)

She wakes quickly, though not startled, she goes from sleep to awake amazingly fast. She didn’t move for a long moment, enjoying the still silence. She takes a deep breath and rolls slowly to the left, feeling her sacroiliac joint slide askew as she got to her feet with a hitch. Her hip socket decided to joint into the party, and gave a sickening, staccato snap as she attempted her first step. She pulled on her jeans, and her shoulders and the ribs in her chest all snapped in rhythm. Her neck ached, so she tossed it from side to side to crack it, both sides producing a terrifying tattoo that more resembled a machine gun than any sort of drum. Every single crack hurt, the louder the snap, the more painful the aftermath.

She takes a deep breath, heading for the door after leashing up the dog, serenaded by a series of cracks and clicks courtesy of her spine on the way down to secure her furry friend. She opens the door, managing not to falter when it feels like her heart stops for a moment and her head feels too damned light to still be attached, it’s intensity rivaled only by its briefness. On she walks with the little dog, and every step brings a grinding sensation to her left hip. Grinding in the groin, grinding in the hip socket, and sometimes grinding at the knee as well, but thankfully not so far today. It was sharp today, instead of hot and achy. It threatened to give out on her. She looked down at her pup and felt her neck vertebrae slide around uncomfortably.

She hurried up with the dog, working with her limp instead of against it, and returned home. She unlatched the dog to more pops and snaps, then removed her shoes. She stood still for a second, and with a complete absence of dizziness, she tipped to the left, ramming her shoulder into the wall and out of socket. It slid back into place as she stood up with a loud ‘thunk’ sound. A series of bizarre feeling muscle spasms danced under the skin behind her calf muscles, looking like someone twiddling fingers under her skin. She sat, feeling another snap in the left hip, followed by a softer one in the right hip when she adjusted herself in her chair. She began to use the computer, ignoring the goose bumps that danced in stripes and patches along her arms, legs, and scalp.

Frowning, and suddenly urgently having to use the bathroom, she stood too quickly, and her sacroiliac joint gave out for good, causing her to falter, almost hitting the floor before regaining control of her hip. She righted herself, and continued walking to the privacy of the bathroom. Upon return from the bathroom, she felt a snapping sensation in her left thigh. It hurt, and made a full stride tricky, but didn’t slow her down. She returned to her seat. The next time she went outside, she’d have to alter her stride to hide it. She knew all too well that human vultures loved to pick on the wounded, so she fostered the image that she was just fine.

The world didn’t get to see the cracks in her skull, the decay in her entire spine, in her hip, and wrists, and every finger. The world didn’t see the random attacks of too much acid in her stomach that felt like she was going to die any second, or when it felt like her body slid forward four feet in forward in .0 seconds flat. The world didn’t know her leg muscles would randomly tighten, making it hard to move her not obviously injured left leg. It didn’t know that she often hear music in another room, sometimes in her room, that just wasn’t there (or that this fact didn’t mean she was crazy.)  It didn’t know that sometimes it felt like an elephant was standing royally on her right cheekbone, or that her spine was slowly being strangled by decaying and hyper mobile vertebrae. It didn’t see her list like a damaged ship for no earthly reason at all…

It didn’t see that she wore all of this under her smile, it only noticed her occasional dysfunctional ambulation when it got the better of her. It didn’t see the snarling gargoyle riding her, its feet planted firmly in her lower spine, holding fast to reigns tied about her shoulders, jerking them cruelly out of place at the slightest offence. It didn’t see the crawling demons that lived under her skin, skittering and making her writhe uncomfortably when she hurt too much in the middle of the night. Restless body syndrome is what it should really be called.

It was all invisible, thus the world couldn’t, and wouldn’t, bother to see beyond the smile. It would be cruel, judging, and unkind to those who looked fine but carried massive, swarming, black burdens under velvet skin. It wouldn’t hear of the aches housed in the pressure fractured porcelain, not when its shine was so beguiling. No…there could be no flaws in there, all seems well from here!! It’s all in your pretty little head, pixie girl! I hear the hoof beats, so there must be horses here!

But I am not a horse. My hoof beats signal the striped flesh of the zebra. What’s the difference?

Zebras keep running, even on broken legs…

Posted: November 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

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  She wakes in a panic, blindfolded, and with a screaming, disturbingly symmetrical pain around her mouth. She didn’t even try to move or open it, choosing to breathe instead from her nose. Despite her terror, she managed not to panic, if only because she knew it would be hard to breathe rapidly when you can’t open your mouth. Her heart shuddered like a faulty cogwheel, and her ears started picking up everything as she became more and more aware of her body and the aches it housed. She felt air on her skin, not moving enough to be breeze, but chilled enough to let her know she was either naked or damned close to it.

  She felt the slightly warmed texture of the restraints on her wrists, metal, tight, but possibly loose enough for her unique skill. She brought both thumbs under her fingers to grasp tightly to both pinkies, significantly flattening the width of her hands. They slid free with dainty little pops. Rice crisp cereal, minus the bowl. Without wasting a second, she tore off her blindfold, and stood, long black hair matted but flying with her upright momentum. She saw her surroundings, (dingy,) and her manacles, (old, and on a long chain staked to a grimy concrete floor.)

 

 There was no one in the room with her, and the door was wide open. It must be a trap. She quickly and quietly laid down the manacles on her exam room type perch, and looked around for a weapon. There was tons of detritus, but very little in the way of weaponry, and still, oddly, no humans. She peered into boxes until she could find something manageable, finally coming across what looked like a box full of theatre props. Inside was housed gallons upon gallons of greasepaint, a hearty litter of sponges, brushes, and pads, as well as other oddities…including a pair of impala antlers for some reason. She grabbed them and was about to run when she saw the gallon of black greasepaint. Looking around to ensure she was still alone, she grabbed the black greasepaint and ducked into a corner behind a stack of boxes. Using her discarded blindfold like the equivalent of masking tape, she painted her entire body, save a band across her eyes, which she kept white as the full moon. That was when she discovered the metal plate that had been bolted over her mouth. It too was smeared with midnight paint.

 

 She heard noises… people coming into the room. She ducked down again, blending into the shadows the room seemed to need like it was air. Only her eyes were visible, but the three men didn’t seem to see her. She tilted her head a bit, and then was struck with the overpowering scent of whiskey. Ah, yes, the good old smell of death. They were drunk, that’s why they didn’t see her. Not completely out of commission, but far too rough to be anywhere near sober. She wondered if they had guns. To find out, she chucked a stray screw in an arc over their heads, sending to rest with a loud tink in the sink on the other side of the room. Both men ran over there…without weapons?? One guy had a Tazer, and that seemed to be all.

 

  She gripped the impala antlers and stood quietly, sneaking up behind the two men with their backs to her, and she somehow managed to be quiet enough to bury both impala antlers into two fat, smelly, hot dog smuggling necks. Drunk wanna be thug number three pulled out a handgun, but she kept the antlers buried in the hot dogs, and used the their meat to take her heat. After the third shot that missed, the last hot dog smuggler started to look a little nervous. She loved it when people underestimated her, and only brought an older, slower six round shot with them in case of extreme emergency. She loved it even more when that once confident face began to know real doubt as she kept advancing on him despite his gunfire. At the last moment, she toppled him with his friends, deadweight fat guy bowling. She laughed at the thought, and that only made fat guy number three even more nervous.

 

  She jumped into the air, landing solidly on his sizeable gut feet first. She folded herself to the point that her legs were resting behind her arms in a squat. Without looking, she snagged one of the horns and jerked it free with a muffled growl, feeling, but ignoring, the wave of white hot pain rushing over her from straining her bolted mouth. She took the antler, and raised it over his head. Fat guy’s face was unimaginably red, and she thought he may be having a heart attack. She let out a shrieking, ragged, primal closed mouth verbal emission of fury before jamming the antler into fat guy’s right eye. He was still alive. Looking down, she leaned in, and looking into his remaining eye, she tilted her head to the side, and reached a hand up to the plate on her mouth. The fat guy started to blubber out horrified ‘No!!s’ that meant nothing and went nowhere as she affixed her grip to the edges of the plate, widening her heterochromatic eyes, one mossy green, one milky white save for the pupil.

 

 More blubbering, and with a roar and a crunching tear, the plate came free. She opened her mouth wide to scream in her uniquely terrifying voice right into his face, raining blood down on his greasy sweaty existence, adding to the levels of fetidness his mouth created without her aid. To earn her freedom, she jammed the metal plate into his manatee like neck, over and over again, until not even vertebrae remained. With a grunt so forceful it caused her cogwheel of a heart to skip again, she stood, bloody plate still in hand. The wall was torn down outside the room she was in, so she bolted for the woods, running until she blacked out.

 

 She woke about 30 minutes after her fall, wondering if she’d had a nightmare. Then she moved her mouth. The pain was intense and immediate. Not a nightmare, then. She stood, looked around, and saw that she’d managed to run for 6 miles straight compared to where she knew she’d been before. She looked around, panicked, and saw no one. A deer saw her, watching the filthy, deranged mad woman whose mouth was stained black with blood on the only non-painted part of her body other than her bizarre eyes. She wouldn’t notice it, but the deer didn’t even flinch when she loosed her insane voice, shrieking out a plea of help. Five calls, rapid-fire, the sound was wholly unique. It was neither words, nor growls, nor shrieks, but some horrible mangling together of the three.

 

  After the fifth call, she collapsed again. The deer emerged from the shadows, as black as she was, and he settled down beside her still form. The buck seemed to guard her as she slept. She would not be alone when she woke up again, but for now, she dreamed of nightmarish things…

 

  She awoke to a world coated in pain. SO much pain… She whimpered. In a second her love was by her side, pulling her into his arms. She still didn’t dare talk, her mouth hurt so badly. She felt her mouth with her frozen fingers. The wound had actually healed significantly, but her mouth still ached. She felt a warm, firm kiss press into her forehead as she was gathered even closer to him, and as always, he managed hold her close and snugly without hurting her. She looked up at his familiar face, she didn’t need to speak for him to hear the question in her mind.

  “Five days. You’ve been out five days, and your mouth is clear of infection. Once it doesn’t hurt anymore, I wanna know how you managed to yank that plate out of your face, and why it took me two days of trying to take it for you to let go finally. But one thing I want to know right now, which can answered with a simple shake or nod, is this…Are the people who did this to you still alive?”

  She shook her head and looked around, wanting for a notepad and pen. He saw her looking around and produced both. Suddenly, she was even more glad they were so close they didn’t NEED to talk to communicate anymore. She drew three large men, each with bottle in hand, one with a gun, one with a Tazer, and one bare handed. She pointed to them, looking into his eyes. This is who they were…

 

  He nodded, and she didn’t miss the tear streaks imprinted on his cheeks. She looked at him again. This is what I did to them. She flipped to the next page and drew the sharp black corkscrews of the impala antlers, then mimed holding one in each hand. She flipped back to the page with her crudely drawn attackers and again mimed holding them, and stabbing the first two, then holding them upright on their tools of death. Then she pointed to the third, and mimed a gun. She mimed holding up the impaled bodies and advancing, then throwing them at the last man left. Then she held the one antler in mime again, she made stabbing motions and point to his eye. The she took a deep breath, and flipped to a third, clean page. She drew her mouth plate. Then she pointed to her face, and mimed tearing it off again. Then she pretended to hold her plate, and jammed it repeatedly towards the picture of the last abductor, then scrawled violently around his neck to black it out.

  By this point, they both had rivers of tears flowing, and with shaking hands, humbled shoulders, and a slightly lost expression, she shrugged and finished her gruesome tale by miming running half heartedly. He cradled her close, rocking her, and clutching gently at her sleeves and hair to try to pull her closer everywhere, limbs included. When he could speak, he managed to get out his last question for the day.

  “How did you survive?”

  She looked up at him, eyes watery, and she gingerly opened her mouth to speak.

  “Because… I love you…”