At Louche Ends: Poetry for the Decadent, the Damned & the Absinthe-Minded by Maria Alexander

I’ve never really been one for poetry. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I guess I’ve just always associated poetry with some hippy-dippy peace-love-and-nature kind of prose. That warm, sunny, positive world-loving lit has its place, but I like my reading dark and frightening. I prefer to be taken out of my comfort zone into the deep, dank cracks and crevices of everyday life. I didn’t think poetry could provide that to me. That and truthfully, I was intimidated by the format. I assumed that poetry would introduce a quirky collection of words that would dance circles in my head without really coming together in a cohesive way to properly evoke the writer’s intended image. Despite being a huge Edgar Allan Poe fan (who isn’t, right?) and familiarizing myself with his poems – “The Raven” is arguably one of the most famous poems in the English language – I was never motivated to pursue this age old literary art form any further. I also had no idea that many of my favorite horror fiction authors have a passion for this format.

All that changed for me after reading At Louche Ends: Poetry for the Decadent, the Damned & the Absinthe-Minded by Maria Alexander (Burning Effigy Press, 2011). It’s discoveries like that which gives me a renewed sense of awe for the horror genre. The dark landscape of horror fiction is so vast and diverse that you could find something for every type of reader in every format imaginable. I wonder now how I could ever doubt there is poetry grim readers will find delectable.

The last several years have seen notable fan favorites nominated in the category of poetry. Rain Graves was nominated for her 2009 poetry collection Barfodder, a book I picked up recently with my newfound interest in the format, and Tom Piccirilli has been nominated several times in the category. Last year, Wrath James White was nominated for his 2010 collection Viscous Romantic. As it turns out, White, a writer best known for his extreme style of horror fiction, considers poetry his first love. This year, Alexander is up for the coveted Bram Stoker castle for At Louche Ends.So, in short, there is plenty of material for readers of the macabre who want to branch out from the standard novel format and I have Maria Alexander and Burning Effigy Press (for publishing her collection) to thank for setting me on this path of new discoveries.

Getting back to the collection at hand, I admitted to Alexander that I was ignorant when it came to poetry and asked her advice for how to approach reading in this format. Alexander likened it to listening to music. If you like the music of the words—the sound, the lilt, the emotions that the images evoke—you don’t have to understand every word. And even if we do understand every word in a song, we often take away different meanings than the composer intended.” So, that’s exactly what I did; I let the music of the words be my guide and found that poetry wasn’t as intimidating as I originally suspected.

In Jill Tracy’s introduction to Alexander’s collection she describes the underground world of decadence and absinthe before its legalization when there was still a “mystery and allure that has sadly been stripped away in modern society.” Tracy recalls the atmosphere of the absinthe bars; “These gatherings were strict invite only, formal dress, drawing a serious collection of aesthetes.” Those who experienced the sweet, stinging kiss of the Green Fairy when it was a secret, illegal indulgence likeTracy will be reminded of that intoxicating spirit. For those unfamiliar with the substance, Alexander offers a glimpse into that obscure world without the bitter aftertaste.

The intoxication of love and a yearning to be complete are common themes in Alexander’s collection. Exquisite pleasure and pain coexist in her nightmare world of sinful decadence. The reader is thrust into the abstruse plain of suffering where there is no bliss without grief and longing remains unsated.

From “The Beast:”

“Ignore the insatiable flame
that consumes the blood
between my thighs.
Die every night
to the memory of his bare skin
gorging that flame like kerosene.”

Alexander’s meditation on longing continues in “The Mistress of Lautreamont” which is concerned with a completeness that if unobtainable.

“I am only narrow strips of fabric
in a bosun’s flag.
I will never be
a whole piece of cloth.”

Again in “The Vein” Alexander expresses an unending anguish for a search that can never elicit results.

“I’ve found it all
but the one precious vein
eludes me.”

And further into the poem:

“The walls will collapse
and I will suffocate in solitude,
unsatisfied.”

In one of my favorite pieces, “Divinity Dust,” Alexander shares an angry and resentful side. She took my impression of poetry as a sunshiny positive prose form, chewed it to a pulp, and spit it right back in my face.

“God’s a jackal,
a roly-poly pervert
who leads you down
dark alleyways
so he can get you high
behind the dumpster
and fuck you in the ass…”

That’s a beautiful excerpt to counter my completely misguided assumptions.

For horror fiction readers who are already fans of poetry, At Louche Ends is a no-brainer. If you’re like me and not sure this style is for you, I would highly recommend cutting your teeth on Alexander’s collection. I hope you appreciate her raw, vulnerable approach as much as I did and will join me on this journey to discover the dark, but equally beautiful, side of poetry.

Pick up At Louche Ends from Burning Effigy Press and be sure to cheer her on for the win at the Bram Stoker Award banquette this weekend.

Visit Maria Alexander’s website here.

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Feature: Poetry, Prose and Publishing – The Inimitable Monica S. Kuebler

This post started out as a lengthy gushing about how Monica S. Kuebler is one of my favourite people in the entire publishing world, regardless of her stature as a “Woman in Horror”.

In that piece, I spoke at length about the fact she is an invaluable, knowledgeable, and helpful human being, a credit to the publishing world, and about how she’s got the entire genre in the palm of her hand and doesn’t even know it. In all honesty, being a woman in this “boy’s club” is a tough hand to be dealt, but Monica plays it with skill and humility.

Eventually, I went on to talk about Burning Effigy and the effect that it had on me as an upstart blogger, reviewer, website thingymabobber, and all ’round literature geek – not just horror lit, either. I blabbed on and on about how she introduced me to one of my favourite writers – Ian Rogers; put on or invited me to some incredible and memorable events – Durham Darklit Festival, an Evening with the Authors; and generally stoked the flame for my love of short horror fiction through the output of those in her small press stable and through random conversation. The incredible array of books that Burning Effigy has put out over the span of  time that I’ve known about them is astounding. Rogers’ Temporary Monsters, The Ash Angels, and Black Eyed Kids remain some of my favourite stories, and one of my top 3 favourite series of all time.

I never would have known about them if it hadn’t been for Monica.

And lest we forget the obligatory championing of her involvement in Rue Morgue Magazine (whose new site is freaking spectacular, if I do say so). Truth be told, this site wouldn’t exist without that publication and, in essence, without Monica. Now, I know it has everything to do with the motivation to get something like this up and running and all that jazz, but think about this: I’m sure that the fact that she is an avid reader/writer helped spawn the “Grim Reader” section on the now defunct Rue Morgue Forum, the Rue Mortuary. I can say, without a doubt, that she was one of a handful of people that inspired me to start Paperback Horror, expand to Dreadful Tales, and at the very least come into contact with some incredible talent out there in horror-land. Hell, I met Pat Dreadful and Meli in the Grim Reader, and I’ll go on the record to say that Monica introduced me, by default, to two of the best people I’ve ever worked with, and ever had the fortune of calling friends.

But that’s not what this post is about.

While I was writing it the first time, this post took on an entirely different life of its own, so I’m running with it.

This entry into the WiHM festivities at Dreadful Tales is about progress and inspiration. This post is about one of the most inspirational and frustratingly cool people I’ve ever met. Someone I’ve been waiting to introduce to people since the first day I heard an inkling that she existed.

And now I can finally do it.

This post is about Monica S. Kuebler – the author.

Monica first told me about her YA trilogy, The Cold Ones, in or around November or December of last year. At first, when she got into the idea just a little bit, I was intrigued, but not enough to drop everything and go nuts.

But then Monica got into the story a little bit more. I swear to you, dear reader, when she got into the meat of The Cold Ones, this woman’s eyes took on a determined look of passionate possession. It was as if she was focusing on a world beyond the cramped little library basement we were currently standing in, completely lost in a landscape of her own making.

And then she hit me with some of the main plot points and the bits of action she could divulge. I don’t know if it’s the way she  told me, or the passion I could see in her eyes, but something clicked.

And I instantly found myself intrigued.

See, I’d read some of Monica’s work before. It’s not stuff that the general horror fan would be likely to take on because, well, most of the stuff I managed to score was poetry. And we all know what sort of folks read poetry, right? Ugh. Wrong. But I have to say, I love that stereotype. It’s just so… special.

Listen: I read poetry. The average horror fan who thinks poetry is for goth girls and emo boys is dead wrong, and using Kuebler’s Some Words Spoken as evidence, readers can see it’s one of the most cathartic things a person can do. Getting lost in the realm of a poet’s design is akin to finding utopia while still wrestling with the possibility of heartbreak, horror, and pain just beyond the horizon. Along with Liisa Ladouceur, Monica is my favourite modern poet. Period.

If you need an example, take a look at what Kuebler can do with the most innocent offer of coffee, leading the reader/audience into an epic love affair, and chronicling one of the most lust-filled pieces of modern poetry I’ve ever heard.

In her joint offering with Cynthia Gould, Some Words Spoken, Monica offers up poems like Chocolate Cake Trophy Girl, Visions of the Week it Rained, and Cycles – pieces that speak to the reader about things they would otherwise keep to themselves, coercing an inner dialogue about the truths in one’s heart while at the same time making things a tab uncomfortable just under the surface. These are the things that keep me going when I’m not reading about the baddies that go bump in the night.

And then there are pieces like Passing Over You and Phone S(ex) that send shivers up the reader’s spine and appeal to the erotica fan in me. This is creativity mingling with lust and frustration… in a good way.

Regardless, Kuebler is a woman who is in touch with her words and knows how to wield them in a way that can hurt, heal, and entertain like no other.

The Night We Slept In Poetry houses one of my favourite selections from any piece of poetry I’ve read in a long while.

We fell asleep in poetry,
books like sharp thin limbs jutted out
from beneath your hip, my shoulder.
Life finds us tangled in such unusual ways.
This was always more than a fragile illusion of text,
this was always just mere moments away from realization.

The Night We Slept In Poetry
Monica S. Kuebler
Some Words Spoken (2002 – Burning Effigy Press)

Getting back on track: when Monica spoke to me about The Cold Ones, my reaction was mixed at first (as I’ve said), but by the end of the short description I wanted more. Now. She assured me that she was doing what she could to get it out there, but that it was a process and I’d basically have to wait it out. I’m not good at waiting. But, ever the humanitarian, she gave me a consolation prize in what I was about to experience, and hoped it would peak my interest a little more. At the time, we were hanging out at the Durham Darklit Festival ’12 in Oshawa, and she was about to go up for a reading.

And she was going to read directly from The Cold Ones.

“Intrigued” no longer fit the bill. Now I was ready and eager to completely absorb this.

In short, I was floored by the snippet that she offered to the crowd that day, and have listened to the following recording many times over. Well, until January 1st, when Bleeder, the online serial prequel to The Cold Ones, went live to the world. You can keep up with the story at the Bleeder website. I do. Religiously.

To me, Kuebler is a study in perseverance and drive. She’s working herself toward her dream, and doing a damned fine job at achieving it.In the latest Rue Morgue Podcast, Monica mentions the fear that she has at releasing her fiction to the masses, and I can’t applaud her more for conquering this fear and gifting us with such a phenomenal story.

Monica S. Kuebler is more than the Managing Editor at Rue Morgue Magazine, Curator and Owner of Burning Effigy Press, and all around modern renaissance woman. She’s also an incredible author, poet, and person.

To sum this up in a few words: apart from my incredible wife, Shelagh, if there was anyone out there in the world that I would want either of my daughters to look up to and aspire to be like, it would be Monica. She’s strong willed, intelligent, creative, and resourceful. She’s everything I want to see more of in the women of this genre, and frankly, in the real world as well.

Check her out at her online portfolio, The Death of Cool, Facebook, and Twitter. You can, and should, follow the online serial novel, Bleeder, at the Bleeder website. Bleeder is also available on Scribd, Wattpad, Facebook, You can also keep up with her happenings at Rue Morgue Magazine, and Burning Effigy Press.

C.

Ladies of Sins of the Sirens: Feature & Interview with Maria Alexander

Our Siren of the day, from the Dark Arts Books anthology Sins of the Sirens (which you can purchase here and here), is Maria Alexander. But before we get down to it, please give her a big round of applause for her 2011 Bram Stoker Award Nomination for the poetry collection At Louche Ends: Poetry for the Decadent, the Damned and the Absinthe-Minded (Burning Effigy Press 2011)! On behalf of Dreadful Tales and our readers, we offer our deepest, most heartfelt congratulations for a well-deserved nomination. We are sacrificing baby goats and kittens to the Cthulhu Gods to ensure you claim your tiny castle!

I am completely enamored with Sins of the Sirens and obsessed with the authors included in this collection. Not only do these women possess the greatest siren weapon – “the ability to unveil vulnerability” – they’re also wildly diverse in style. Not just from writer to writer, but within their own stories as well. Although it’s our inclination to tag something as horror, fantasy, sci-fi, or a crossbreed thereof, you really don’t do these stories justice to do so.

Alexander’s back story is a lot like a dark fairytale, filled with downfall and triumph. She’s enjoyed the encouragement and friendship of horror genre icons, notably Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker, but, as is often the case in life, suffered great loss as well.

Blessed be the reading community, though, for Alexander turns all the good, bad, and ugly into rich, beautiful text to console the weak and humble the strong.

Alexander keeps the momentum going in Sins set by our opening act, Loren Rhoads. There are no boundaries she can’t cross, nothing to hold her back from telling the story aching to get out.

Alexander begins Sins of the Sirens with “Pinned,” a tale of underground sexual perversions that find Alyssa intoxicated by a man who may be bad for her health and her friendship. Her desire to make BDSM fantasies come true is too strong to resist and Alyssa finds herself pursuing the ex of her best friend. But sexual cravings aren’t so easily fulfilled in an Alexander story and Alyssa gets stuck between a rock and a hard place. Unfortunately, the hard place ain’t the male member. Or a dildo. Neither is the rock.

I would love to share one of the more provocative entries, but instead I’ll just give you a little taste.

From “Pinned:”

He pinched my nipples firmly, tugging until they were hard as oak.

Like I said, not even the tip of the iceberg, but perhaps that lil’ tease will satisfy the browser that keeps ending up at Dreadful Tales in search of “erect nipples!”

Following that is a fever-dream, absinthe-soaked, Lynchian period piece, called “The Dark River in His Flesh,” about a helpless addict Richard, whose drug is the love of the temptress Lillian, and a bit of absinthe too. I say Lynchian because if David Lynch penned a period piece, it might be a lot like this. A mysterious absinthe bar that can only be accessed by ragamuffin linkboys, smoke-filled, the scent of rich wine wafting through the air, houses a “trio of young female musicians” that play “an old French Renaissance tune in the far corner of the establishment.” For some reason, I recalled the strange bar scene from Fire Walk With Me. Like that movie, “The Dark River in His Flesh” is a strange trip, man. Here is one of my favorite excerpts from the story:

Struggling under the bulky nets of insobriety, Richard pushed through the room as 80 proof waves washed against his legs. A thunderclap underscored the trio’s quaint waltz, followed by the hiss of rain against the inky windows.

Alexander closes with the story most categorically horror of the bunch. See, there I go again with my labels! But seriously folks, “The Last Word” is a Twilight Zone of a tale. Albert has an affection for old things and comes across a blank book with Edwardian script that reads “This book belongs to:______________.” The journal starts speaking to Albert through its ghost entries, or is Albert unknowingly speaking to himself!? It starts innocently enough; the journal warns Albert of impending danger, but it quickly becomes a destructive voice coercing him to commit despicable acts. This is a quick psychological romp into a mad world of macabre twists. Here is a peak inside the madness:

He then sat at his desk, staring at the journal, wondering if it was a ghost. Or God.

Although I think everyone absolutely needs a copy of Sins of the Sirens, I must urge you to also pick up her Bram Stoker Award-nominated collection of poems At Louche Ends from Burning Effigy Press. Alexander weaves a melodious prose and whether the subject is a back alley junkie looking for God or an erotic interlude, the poems in At Louche Ends read like a beautiful song.

If you don’t think you’re into poetry, I would still highly recommend Alexander’s work. Just relax and let the music take you away.

Delve into the intoxicating world of Maria Alexander via her website, keep tabs on her through Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Now, I’ll let Maria Alexander speak for herself. On to the interview!

DT: How were you approached to contribute to SINS OF THE SIRENS? Did you know who else would be contributing to the anthology?

ALEXANDER: It was at the 2005 World Horror Convention, I think, that John Everson approached me and shared his vision for SotS, which included Bel, Loren and Christa. I agreed on the spot. In fact, I think my exact words were, “Fuck yeah!”

DT: All 3 stories in this collection are quite different. “Pinned” is a modern, highly erotic voodoo tale; “The Dark River in His Flesh” is a period piece about an intoxicating fatal attraction centering around a mysterious absinthe bar; and “The Last Word,” set in present day (2006) Los Feliz, concerns itself with an old, enigmatic journal that “speaks” to its new owner Albert. Can you tell us about the inspiration for each of these stories? Why did these fit with the theme of SINS OF THE SIRENS?

ALEXANDER: I originally pitched “Pinned” to Jeff Gelb for the Hot Blood series—just a quick idea about a fetish that had intrigued me. He accepted the pitch but then I had Lasik surgery that didn’t go so well. (Can you say “complications”?) A lengthier than anticipated recovery meant I couldn’t turn in the story on time for consideration. SotS came along shortly thereafter. A painting entitled “Cupid as a Link Boy” by Sir Joshua Reynolds inspired “The Dark River in His Flesh.” (How completely wrong is that painting on every level? The answer is: way.) As for “The Last Word,” that came to me one night after I’d spent an especially long time pouring my heart into my mopey goth girl diary. I wondered what the diary would say to me based on the totally biased and miserable version of events I’d just given it. I figured it would recommend the systematic slaughter of humanity.

I can’t answer for John as to why he thought these were the best stories for the anthology. Both men and women transgress in these stories. I suspect he was going for something more meta, like we four writers are the “sirens” and our “sins” are these transgressive tales.

DT: You include the Aristotle quote “…all paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind” in “The Last Word.” How do you combat that degradation and still make a living writing?

ALEXANDER: Aristotle clearly never worked for The Mouse. Writing for Disney has been intellectually challenging and rewarding, and keeps up my wordsmithing chops. The websites I’ve written for have won multiple awards and I sometimes get to work on fantastic projects, such as the online educational kids’ game, Habit Heroes. It ties into the Epcot® exhibit of the same name that just opened. In addition to co-designing the 3D game, I wrote most of the villains that appear on the website, and our super talented creative lead brought them to life in his artwork.

But to Aristotle’s point, corporate work buggers the spirit, if not the mind. I suspect he just wanted more time to lay about and philosophize.

DT: Both “The Dark River in His Flesh” and “The Last Word” deals with an adulteress. Why did you choose to focus the story, and the protagonists’ obsession and madness, on an unfaithful woman? Do you consider that the ultimate sin?

ALEXANDER: Adultery isn’t the world-ender than many people think. Any experienced marriage counselor will tell you that, although the problem is painful and soul-wrenching, most married couples work through it. In these stories, I was absorbed by the idea of otherwise good people becoming involved with nutty people and how the former’s lives go tango uniform as a result. They’re cautionary tales. In the case of “Dark River,” the story is about incorporating your Jungian shadow. It’s the only story I’ve ever written where I didn’t know the ending before I started writing. I beat the monkey in my head with a shoe until it vomited the ending. I showed it to the therapist I was seeing at the time. She said the ending was perfect from a psychological perspective, so the shoe beatings worked!

DT: Another commonality in both the aforementioned stories is inanimate ghosts. We have a ghost bar, Chanceux in “The Dark River in His Flesh,” and a ghostly journal in “The Last Word.” Why did you use these inanimate objects to haunt our protagonist? Or were these objects the medium of a much crueler entity?

ALEXANDER: Haunted houses are cliché. I just can’t do it. But I can haunt the hell out of anything else. What I love about Sarah Langan’s The Keeper is that she manages to haunt an entire town. That’s awesome.

DT: AT LOUCHE ENDS is “poetry for the decadent, the damned, and the absinthe-minded.” The introduction by Jill Tracy expounds on the intrigue of what was once an illegal substance, and much of “The Dark River in His Flesh” is driven by Richard’s absinthe-fueled nights. I have not yet had the opportunity to try absinthe, so I must ask – what is your obsession with absinthe? Do you write when drunk on it? If so, what influence do the intoxicating qualities have on your writing?

ALEXANDER: I’ve always loved the mystique of absinthe, the history and the hoax of its purported hallucinogenic properties. I’ve only ever written one thing while drunk on absinthe and that was “Dark River.” I wanted to be able to articulate exactly what it felt like. A lush friend read it and said, “Yup! You nailed it!” But seriously? Most absinthe tastes like crap. Plus, it’s legal now and that sort of wrecks the allure. Still, if I were back in Antibe, I’d definitely return to the absinthe bar, Balade en Provence, because the atmosphere is amazing. It’s this underground cavern full of period absinthe paraphernalia. Super cool for history and absinthe buffs alike.

DT: I am completely ignorant when it comes to poetry. My experience with poetry is limited to Edgar Allan Poe (because I was such a fan of his horror fiction growing up), Shakespeare (because I loved his tragic plays), and Charles Baudelaire (since it was required reading for a horror fiction class I took in college). Since it is this mostly unknown form of expression for me, I find it terribly intimidating. It reminds me of abstract art. You have an immediate, emotional reaction to what you see, make an assumption of the influence behind it, but often don’t know (until you read about the artist’s inspiration later) if what you understand of that piece is accurate. Simply, you surmise the meaning of it without knowing if that is the artist’s intention. And I feel that way about poetry as well. Any basic hints for new poetry enthusiasts who would like to understand this format better?

ALEXANDER: When you hear a song that sounds pleasing but the words make no sense—Tori Amos, The Cocteau Twins and Kate Bush come to mind—you probably don’t say to yourself, “I don’t understand this song. I’m intimidated by it.” If you like the music, you keep listening, right? Poetry is the same way. If you like the music of the words—the sound, the lilt, the emotions that the images evoke—you don’t have to understand every word. And even if we do understand every word in a song, we often take away different meanings than the composer intended.

But let’s face it…if it’s good poetry, you should be able to understand it. A lot of what I consider bad poetry tosses out some evocative words with shitty imagery and no art to the words. No music. No story. There’s so much of that sort of thing that I’m convinced it’s why people think they don’t like poetry in general. It’s the single most abused literary form in existence.

DT: At the time of this interview, AT LOUCHE ENDS has a preliminary nomination for a 2012 Bram Stoker Award. Congratulations! I just finished reading the collection and despite my inexperience with this format, I found it highly accessible while haunting and cryptic. How did this collection come to be?

ALEXANDER: Thanks, lady! I’m so glad you dug it. One day I was going through my writing and discovered I had a lot of poetry that I’d written since the last collection, Biting Midnight, back in 2001. The title came to me soon thereafter and I knew I had to get it out there. I immediately thought of Jill Tracy for the introduction and Katelan Foisy for the artwork. Fortune rained upon my dark little head when they both agreed to be part of it because I had envisioned it as an overall concept.

DT: Every poem in AT LOUCHE ENDS is emotionally intense and deals with deeply intimate and personal experiences, but I picked two in particular that really made my heart ache. They left a lasting impression on me, one that has ignited a new obsession for poetry I hope to pursue further. Could you tell us about the inspiration for those poems, “Divinity Dust” and “Occult?”

ALEXANDER: That’s so cool. I’m immensely pleased to hear it made you want to read more poetry, not less! I can recommend more poets, like Ann Schwader, Wendy Rathbone, Marge Simon and Denise Dumars (since it’s Women in Horror month).

I guess I’m surprised that so many people are specifically asking about “Divinity Dust,” but I shouldn’t be. Starting in 1994, I experienced a series of extremely powerful synchronistic events that changed my life. When the events subsided and I didn’t land where I’d wanted to in life, I felt abandoned, like Ford Prefect, standing out in a field with my electronic thumb, waiting for a lift back to wherever. I also felt angry. That’s when I wrote “Divinity Dust.” I was in withdrawal from all the metaphysical excitement. These days, I’m relieved to be out of that space and I’ve made my peace with God, the Universe, or whatever you prefer to call it.

As for “Occult,” I had gotten involved in a couple of quasi-relationships that never got off the ground because the men didn’t want people to know we were dating. Why? They were cheating, insecure, whacked in the head…whatever. “Occult” means “hidden,” which is how I felt. Clearly, it sucked and I wasn’t cool with it. And believe me, I let those men know. Oh, did I ever.

DT: “The Little One,” the last poem in this collection, is also accompanied by a French translation. Do you speak fluent French? How did you learn? Did you live there? How have those experiences influenced your writing?

ALEXANDER: The answer is “yes” to most of the above. I was dating a guy for three years who was French and a university professor. He got a one-year gig in France as the Resident Director of the California State University Study Abroad Program. I went with him, but not before we first went to Middlebury College for the summer. He was teaching a graduate course there while I audited the beginner’s seven-week, full-immersion course. I lived on campus and took the world-famous Middlebury Language Pledge: absolutely NO English or any other language other than French for all seven weeks. It ripped my ego to shreds, having to talk like a baby for the first few weeks. I wrote “Petite” around Week #4 of the course, after I’d learned a new verb tense we don’t have in English called the imparfait. By the time I got to France right after that, the French people I met thought I was I was a genius because of how well I could speak and comprehend after only three months. Trust me. I’m not brilliant. It was Middlebury. The program is extraordinary. I’m not “fluent” these days, but I’d be okay if you dropped me back in Paris.

While the relationship didn’t last, living in Aix-en-Provence and love for the language have radically altered me and my perception of the world forever. You begin to appreciate that other people just don’t think like you do or have the same cultural values. That their society functions under a different premise—not a wrong premise or bad premise, just different. It makes for better writing.

While there, I had an epiphany that changed my writing life for good. During one of my many excursions to Paris, I met and studied with Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer Kathleen Spivack, who convinced me that I should be writing a lot more than horror, that humor was my true gift. Not that I didn’t believe her because that’s what my agent was also saying, but I was all, “Hey, I’ve got serious, important stuff to say, man!” Then I saw the movie Molière. The scene moved me where Molière’s wife is on her death bed and she’s begging him to use his humor to tell stories. All these voices echoed in my head—those of Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Carroll, and many others who’d urged me over the years to use my humor. That’s when I decided to follow Molière’s lead.

DT: Your writing undoubtedly has horrific qualities, but they are also tragic dramas about love lost. Do you consider your writing, in particular AT LOUCHE ENDS and the stories in SINS OF THE SIRENS, horror? Or would you prefer to use another classification?

ALEXANDER: I dislike classifying my stories because labels shut the door to some readers. Several years ago I submitted “The King of Shadows” to the Moondance Competition, which was sponsored by Oprah, Coppola and Variety magazine. The story was a finalist. Can you imagine Oprah putting her sticker on a horror novel? Yet “The King of Shadows” first appeared in Gothic.net.

Half of my stories are also crime stories. “The Last Word” is a great example. I think Rue Morgue Magazine called it a mystery. I love that. Even “Dark River” is far more noir than anything else, in spite of the supernatural trappings.

DT: You’ve had at least three (that I know of) stories/collections in the preliminary ballot for a Bram Stoker Award. I hope AT LOUCHE ENDS makes it into the final ballot and results in a much deserved little castle for your bookshelf! I’m sure the preliminary nomination was still exciting as hell. What other moments could you pinpoint as an “Ah, THIS is why I write” moment?

ALEXANDER: Thank you! Fingers crossed.

I wouldn’t say, though, that any of my close encounters with the Bram Stoker ballot qualify as the “why I write” moments. Those moments more typically arrive when I get random emails from readers who are moved to tears by one of my stories, who have felt healing from something I wrote, or who simply felt I understood them. Recently one of my humor pieces, “The Sparkle Dick Diaries: The Problem with ‘Jail Bite’ in Twilight and Other Teenage Romances,” got passed around on Facebook. I was able to trace who had “shared” the link and read their comments. To know people were laughing their asses off and sharing my angst was awesome. It’s those communal, unifying experiences that remind me why I write. And laughter is the most healing thing in the world.

DT: Just before Women in Horror Month kicked off, Maniac.com’s Top 20

Greatest Horror Writers of All-Time list came out. I am quite fond of many writers on that list, but there is the glaring omission of any female writers in that list! Not one stinkin’ woman! Not that women stink, but you know what I mean. What do you think of lists that so casually omit the exhaustive efforts of female writers?

ALEXANDER: Wow. That’s kind of a fuckwitted list.

To be fair, I don’t know what criteria Mr. Janson was using to put together this particular list, but in my opinion Daphne du Maurier, for example, blows away half of the authors on that list. You wanna know why Alfred Hitchcock adapted more of her stories than any other writer? Check out The Birds or Rebecca. Joyce Carol Oates? Shirley Jackson? Are you going to tell me with a straight face that every single one of those authors is greater than Shirley Jackson? I don’t think any of the living writers on that list would say that. I’d argue that Edith Wharton was a better ghost story writer than M.R. James. But then, a lot of people don’t know Edith Wharton wrote ghost stories. Neither do they know Daphne du Maurier wrote The Birds.

To exclude such important writers—whether they’re male or female—reveals a narrow view of the genre. And by narrow, I mean fuckwitted.

DT: In an interview with Brad Hodson you said “We need more literary horror.” The best examples of “literary horror,” which I simply call “smart horror,” are from female authors like Lisa Mannetti for example. Who are some of your personal favorites, men or women?

ALEXANDER: Daphne du Maurier. Bel Wilson. Elizabeth Kostova’s book, The Historian, has a gorgeous, highly literary style (but it has no plot, so never mind). Tim Powers, especially with The Stress of Her Regard. Clive Barker—God, how I love him. And Julio Cortázar. I cannot recommend his short story, “The Night Face Up,” highly enough.

DT: What’s next for Maria Alexander?

ALEXANDER: Humor. Lots of it. I’m currently searching for an agent to represent my thriller satire. Think Airplane but for thrillers. And I’m writing a humorous memoir about the events that preceded “Divinity Dust.” Imagine I’m giving you my best and most serious Tenth Doctor look when I say, “Hold on tight.”

Plus, and this is really going to sound nuts, but I have all these science fiction stories piling up in my head. Some based on dreams. Others based on crazy situations in Los Angeles. Even something I saw working at Walt Disney World Resort this last fall. I think they’re really all social satire in science fiction drag, but again, let’s forget classification and just go for kickass funny stories that say something about how we’re living.

DT: OK, last one 🙂
Vincent Price has invited you to the House on Haunted Hill and he wants you to pick the other four guests. Who do you pick, dead or alive, and why?

ALEXANDER: Richard Dawkins. If there’s any bullshit, he’ll detect it. He’ll probably annoy the hell out of everyone else and I’ll enjoy watching that.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. If I have to explain why I’d pick him, it’ll make the baby Jesus cry.
Hedy Lamarr. Inventor of technology that would be the basis of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Actress. Incredibly brave and resourceful.
Roberta Brown. She was my first sword teacher. She still teaches swordplay for film and stage, is super smart, and has a wonderful sense of humor. Lord knows we’d need all the humor we could get!

Thanks again, Maria Alexander! And best of luck at the Stokers!

Burning Effigy’s: An Evening With The Authors

Burning Effigy Press is unabashedly one of our favourite publishers here at DT, so when we found out about this event, we jumped at the chance to attend. This was an evening of wonderful people, conversation, and literature. An Evening with the Authors was an incredibly immersive experience, so please feel free to read the article and watch the video embedded below.

We began the evening as Burning Effigy founder/owner Monica S. Kuebler took the stage and thanked us all for attending, as well as expressing a very sincere gratitude for having made 2011 Burning Effigy’s best year ever. Monica hinted at new releases in 2012 from both Ian Rogers and Tobin Elliott, both of whom were featured performers this evening along with comedian/playwright Jeff Cottrill. Monica then recounted all of the books that B.E. had published in 2011 in chronological order:

THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE – Nate Southard
VANISHING HOPE – Tobin Elliot
AT LOUCHE ENDS – Maria Alexander
GROUCH ON A COUCH – Jeff Cottrill
BLACK EYED KIDS –  Ian Rogers
7 BRAINS – Michael Louis Calvillo

Monica then introduced us to our first author of the night, performing a scene from the hilarious one-man play GROUCH ON A COUCH, Jeff Cottrill. The scene is from the middle of the play, and rather than spoil it, please watch the video below and be on the lookout for my personal favourite scene – trash angels! Also, keep en eye out for a full review on the site in the coming weeks.

Upon completion of the scene, Monica joined Jeff on stage for a Q&A session. We begin with the obvious:

  • Why a play? Jeff has always loved theatre but had an affinity for numbers and was forced into things like math and business, until he admittedly failed himself out of York and begun to live for his passion.
  • What would he do differently? “Don’t listen to shitty advice.” Many people told him what he needed/didn’t need and he ended up getting conned, as a result he’s resolute to listen to his gut.
  • Will he ever do another play? Jeff will definitely write more plays, but is rather hesitant to perform again.
  • What is the backstory to GROUCH? Jeff wanted to mesh Avenue Q with Z Story. He also took elements of his personal life to apply to the character.
  • Current projects? Jeff is currently studying sketch comedy at Second City, where he’s nearly completed the course and will have his sketches performed live. (Please watch the video or listen to the audio for exact dates.)

After a brief intermission, Monica introduced us to VANISHING HOPE scribe, Tobin Elliott. Initially, Tobin hired Monica to edit NO HOPE but, after reading the manuscript, Monica decided that she wanted to publish it. She requested that Elliott write a sort of ‘teaser’ chapbook for quick release, and the author obliged, producing VANISHING HOPE in response. The novel, NO HOPE, will be available sometime in 2012. Tobin thanked Jeff, Ian, DT’s own Colum and Monica for their support. Before the reading, Elliott noted that the cover model lives in Russia and recently reached out to him via Facebook. Her name is Natalie. (Those who’ve not read VANISHING HOPE, the protagonist’s name is Talia.) Tobin’s reading begins on page 39.

After the reading, Tobin is joined by Monica for his Q&A which Monica begins with a burning question:

  • What took so long to break in? Tobin cites a lack of confidence in his work and his unwillingness to admit that he is a writer as his main reason for not pursuing horror fiction sooner.
  • Are there any stories yet to be told? The novel, NO HOPE is still taking shape, and Tobin does have preliminary ideas for a follow up.
  • How did VANISHING HOPE come about? The “squirrel scene” was originally a short story, and he expanded on that.
  • What can we expect from NO HOPE? Set in 1981, there will be new characters, a broader world, and more antagonists. Set in a school, Tobin exorcised some high school demons through the actions of his characters.
  • Why is a child (Talia) the protagonist? Tobin wanted to explore a loss and perversion of innocence, the character of Talia gave him those opportunities.
  • Did any research or medical study go into VANISHING HOPE? Absolutely none, Tobin happily admits that he “faked all of it.”
  • Will Talia be in NO HOPE? Only in cameos.
  • Current projects? Tobin is working on a murder mystery that he was asked to write, and has made one of his characters a writer working on a murder mystery.
  • Other appearances? None in the works, though Tobin will be at Darklit Durham as a fan.

After another brief intermission, Monica once again took the stage to present the final reader. She explained her love of long stories and epic series and the stark contrast between that love of long stories and the admittedly novella-favouring nature of Burning Effigy. When introduced to the Felix Renn series, Monica felt they’d be a perfect addition to the lineup. Ian Rogers then took the stage and read from BLACK EYED KIDS.

Prior to the reading, Rogers paused to explain the back story of Felix Renn and his world. Ian was once asked if the feel of dread in the books were a metaphor for 9-11, to which Ian understands the correlation, but did not write the books for that purpose. Ian then picked up a stack of printed pages, and read an excerpt of a completely new, unpublished Felix Renn story! Watch the exclusive footage of that reading below.

Ian remained onstage while once again Monica moderated the Q&A, which began with:

  • Where did Felix Renn come from? Ian loves to read detective, noir and horror stories, penned by the likes of J. Russell, Robert Parker, Jim Butcher and felt that the genres could meld quite nicely. Ian has coined his genre “supernoirtural”, where supernatural things exist as a matter of fact. Ian also believes that Felix is a “wiseass, like me.”
  • How did you build the world of the Black Land? The world is left very open and in the background, as Ian wanted to avoid over-describing the world and concentrate on plot, character and other fundamentals. Ian stressed that the world needed to be practical in order to maintain a suspension of disbelief.
  • How many Felix stories can there be? Ian noted that he has 3 or 4 novels outlined, and a spinoff brewing for another character. He believes that Felix’s world is centralized in Toronto, which will eventually come to an end, but the spinoff has the potential to go nation-wide.
  • Where else can readers find Felix? The story MY BODY can be found in Chilling Tales, while MIDNIGHT BLONDE will be found in and upcoming edition of British magazine Supernatural Tales. Ian mentioned the upcoming Felix Renn collection to be published by Burning Effigy will have at least 50% new material in order to keep readers sated.
  • From the unpublished story, who is the dead person? The interior decorator, though she’s not dead.
  • Tobin Elliott jumped in with a humourous request that Ian stop copying Tobin. “Kovac” is an integral character name in both BLACK EYED KIDS and VANISHING HOPE (though spelled slightly differently). The covers of both books feature creepy children. Monica chimed in stating that Tobin’s cover came first and the rights to the picture were purchased before Ian submitted his idea. Monica also assured us that Ian enjoys surprising her with plot details, and the initial drafts of both covers were virtually identical.
  • Where else will Ian be? Like Tobin, Ian will be attending Darklit Durham, but as an organizer along with Michael Kelly and founder Joel Sutherland. Ian also has a signing of his weird west novella DEADSTOCK coming up in Peterborough and he will be a guest at Wizard World Con in April.

After the Q&A with Rogers, Monica mentioned that, in addition to new offerings from Ian Rogers and Tobin Elliott, Burning Effigy will be publishing a novella by Gemma files in 2012. She then announced that her YA serial novel, BLEEDER, will begin on January 1, 2012 with the cover and synopsis being revealed exclusively at Dreadful Tales on December 1st. Monica thanked us all for coming, thanked the Black Swan for having us, and the show closed.

Colum and I personally would like to thank Monica S. Kuebler, Ian Rogers, Tobin Elliott and Jeff Cottrill for a wonderful evening, and for chatting with us afterward.

For more on Burning Effigy Press, visit their website and follow them on Twitter. Monica S. Kuebler can be found via Burning Effigy, on her website, and the BLEEDER website.

For more information on the Felix Renn series, visit The Black Lands. Ian Rogers can be found at his website or via Twitter.

Tobin Elliott maintains a blog here, and you may also find him on Twitter.

Jeff Cottrill can be found and contacted via his website, and he also keeps a Twitter account.

To keep up to date with everything Dreadful Tales, bookmark us, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

7 Brains by Michael Louis Calvillo

7 Brains from Michael Louis Calvillo took me for a ride. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, never having read any of Calvillo’s previous works, this little book kept me on my toes right from page one.

Humanity is on the cusp of a New Evolution. Yep! Pure Emotion has curdled and given way to empty solutions, a gilded edge of bling-bling exteriors masking Rampant Corruption, Souring Evil and Internal Pollution. Our hero, Malcolm, the reluctant man with a reluctant plan, purpose fluttering in his chest from zero to a million miles an hour in seconds flat, holds the keys to the kingdom of light. All he has to do is eat seven lovely brains and set things right. He’s got a hacksaw, and a hammer, and a set of determined, pearly whites. Can he usher in hope before the imminent descent of everlasting night?

The story is told by Malcolm, himself, in first person. After only a few pages it becomes apparent that Malcolm is quite possibly insane. Calvillo’s narrative invites the reader into Malcolm’s mind, and paints a picture of a happy, yet troubled man. Malcolm’s nightmares draw upon legitimate human fears, while his conscious mental state evoked a genuine sympathy from this reader. As the pace of the story quickens and the antagonist is introduced, Malcolm further straddles the line of insanity, yet remains grounded by his constant love for his family.

Calvillo pushes the boundaries of classification with his antagonist. I began reading expecting a zombie splatter-fest, but that opinion was quickly squashed as Malcolm’s degeneration is protracted and “zombie” becomes improper terminology. Elements in both story and narrative suggest a paranormal antagonist, however that idea is quashed by the antagonist himself.

I said before that this book took me on a ride, and that’s the best way to describe it. 7 Brains is emotional, psychological horror. Having said that, this book contains all the gore and uncomfortable situations that hardcore readers will crave, and will test those limits at least twice. Calvillo made this book incredibly funny in areas where the humour was best served, and the punchlines were delivered effortlessly. Calvillo also examines the human condition, as each of the 7 brains represent human attributes that in Calvillo’s world, (and in ours, I’d agree) have been rendered extinct. Malcolm is forced to make gut-wrenching choices, and Calvillo’s world is so expertly constructed that all choices offered to Malcolm could have a terrible outcome.

7 Brains is only a taste of what Michael Louis Calvillo has to offer, and as a chapbook, it’s a bite-sized portion of awesome. You can order a copy from Burning Effigy Press, and check out Calvillo’s other works on his website.

Dreadfully Approved: Canadian Writers…

Welcome to the little corner of our library where we keep all of our favorite reads. It’s here you will find the folks who carry the Dreadful Tales stamp of approval – a label we bestow upon some of our favorite dark/horror fiction and non-fiction writers.

Now, keep in mind that these are OUR favorites. You may have your own choices and we encourage you to share your favorites with us in the comments. In fact, it’s that kind of action that will get you noticed, and help your fellow genre fiction fiends find the authors that they may come to cherish.

Take a look around. See if you can find anything you like. Our library is open all day long, come rain or shine. Just make sure to close the door on your way out. Wouldn’t want any of these beasties making their way out into the world…

Continue reading

All Hallow’s Read (Day 22) A scary book for…

…someone who likes Canadian authors.

World at-large, meet one of my all time favorite writers. His name is Steve Vernon and he’s written everything from YA, Weird West, Campfire Tales, and all the way back to Straight Horror. This man is a master storyteller with an amazingly lyrical gait, a phenomenal wealth of knowledge when it comes to honing your craft, the tradition of oral storytelling, and pretty much everything under the sun in regards to horror literature.

Whether you’re looking for zombified buffalo (Long Horn, Big Shaggy), a superhero that may or may not be very “super” at all (Nothing To Losemy personal favorite), time traveling spiders (Plague Monkey Spam), Campfire Stories (Wicked Woods), Sea Monsters (Sinking Deeper), gypsies that save the world (Gypsy Blood), and more – Steven Vernon is your man. Go forth and hunt this man’s work down.

All Hallow’s Read is a book-giving tradition thought up by author Neil Gaiman. We’ll be making book suggestions all month long in case you need ideas!