“Black Hymeneal” Reboot

Posted in Black Hymeneal, Gothic Poetry, Gothic Prose with tags , , , on June 16, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

My first poetry collection, “Black Hymeneal”, is back on track. It will not be the beautiful book I envisioned so long ago, but it will at least get out into the world. It shall not feature any specific artwork. Unfortunately, my friend Michele has some pressing familial responsibilities which have taken precedence (understandably) over helping to complete the artwork for the book, so I am going to just continue without it at this point. Perhaps someday we can collaborate on a portfolio of the completed artwork she did for the book, if the collection proves to be successful enough to warrant that. Her lovely artwork deserves to be seen, and I hope some day it will be. I appreciate the hard work she did and the help she gave me in showing me the ropes of the publishing business. I shall never forget her kindness.

The table of contents for the new book has changed, since I have decided to pull a few pieces for another planned collection of song lyrics for my old band, The Dark Young. More on that after I get “Black Hymeneal” into the world.

The new selection is as follows:

01. Manurog
02. Hell-flower
03. Thalia
04. Witch’s Tit
05. Sor Maria and the Devil, Luzbel
06. Krampus
07. Manqueller Manque
08. Moribond
09. Skull in an Ice Cream Cone
10. HPL RIP
11. Broceliande
12. Threnody
13. Black Hymeneal

I have already begun retyping the manuscript and adding new introductions for the poems. My goal was to be ready to publish by my 50th birthday in August. We’ll see if I can make the deadline. Keep your eyes on future posts with updates.

“The Killing Heart” by Zachary Strupp

Posted in Supernatural Thriller, The Killing Heart, Zachary Strupp with tags , , on May 31, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Believe it or not, I have friends. Friends who not only tolerate my creepy inclinations, but share them as well. Yes, and we’re coming to get you…LOL! No, not really, mostly we stay at home to watch Horror movies, eat carbs, and drink beer. Some of my friends are writers like me. I know a few even, who have been published, like my buddy Zach. Zach has published a novel called “Eden”, which is a heart-wrenching tale about a transgender woman trying to find acceptance in the midst of her change. It’s actually a lot lighter than you might think and is actually hard to put down. It’s goes to uncomfortable places, but it’s got laughs and it’s got heart. Which brings us to his latest book, the Killing Heart”.

“The Killing Heart” by Zachary Strupp (2017, Create Space).

Jeffrey Dale is a mess, he spends his days either blacking out or  in a drunken stupor which is broken up by  visions of his dead wife and occasional visits from his cute neighbor and the resident stoner.
One day a new neighbor comes a-knocking, and she is mysterious and very hot, but there is something not right about this woman and soon Jeffrey has a hard time telling reality from fantasy. When bodies start turning up evidence seems to lead to him and all hell breaks loose. Did he commit these horrendous crimes? Is this sexy stranger across the hall  whom she pretends to be? Jeffrey must find out before he gets fingered for these murders.
I don’t want to say much else because it is a short book, more like a novella and I do not wish to give everything away. This is a supernatural thriller which will leave you guessing till the final reveal.
Zachary published this novella a few years back, but has since gone back and re-written it, switching the tense. As one might expect from a self-publishing product, there re a few typos and there are a few instances where he missed the tense switch-over. Even so, the story is gripping and the dialog snappy.
The current cover art is appropriately intense and the book is bound well. No worries about cheap bindings that fall apart.

If you’re looking for something new and exciting to read, do yourself a favor and pick it up on Amazon.com, where it is also available for Kindle.

Tales of Blood: Origins of Mannymärchen

Posted in Angela Carter, Fairy Tales, Gothic Fairy Tales, Märchen, Red as Blood (book), Tanith Lee, The Bloody Chamber (book), The Company of Wolves 1984 with tags , , , , , , , on April 25, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

By now most of you have some inkling of my love for Gothic Horror, but what you may not be as aware of is my love for Fairy Tales and old school Fantasy. As a grown man, I still thrill to find an old edition of the Grimm Brother’s Hausmärchen, especially if it’s illustrated, or a faithful rendition of the tales of Charles Perrault. I even read essays on them by such scholars as Jack Zipes, and Iona & Peter Opie. I love fairy tales, I love their weirdness, and I love their romance.

The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Jack Zipes ed. (2014 Princeton University Press)

I also love the Victorian authors whose stories for children drew heavily from the genre, like Lewis Carroll or George MacDonald. I always saw potential in there to tell darker tales and looked for stories with the magic of these tales but with more grown up themes. Unfortunately, most adaptations are nothing more than an excuse to sex them up or to throw some unrelated tale together and name-drop some fairy tale character for name recognition.

Then one day I found a book that caught my eye and gave me hope. It was a massmarket paperback of Tanith Lee’s “Red as Blood”. These drew from the fairy tales of my childhood, but reinvented them as quality fantasy tales. The only problem is that Lee, like my other Fantasy fave, Clark Ashton Smith, has a tendency to go full on Fantasy, setting stories in totally made up worlds with exotic names and fanciful creatures. I like my fantasy and horror to have some basis in reality for me to identify with and balance the fantastic element.

“Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer” by Tanith Lee (1983, Daw)

I was intrigued by the idea, but still hadn’t quite gotten there myself. Then I saw the movie “The Company of Wolves”, which mixed the story of Little Red Riding Hood with werewolves. An obvious conceit at first glance, but the script was smart, with humor and the werewolf theme was explored fully as a folkloric creature not a Hollywood trope.

Poster for “The Company of Wolves” (1984).

I was enthralled. It explored some of the latent themes in the original fairy tale of a girl’s coming of age and exploring her burgeoning emotions and desires as she tries to navigate the world around her which is beginning to take notice. All this was there along with the deep folklore surrounding these themes as well as the werewolf legends. In my enthusiasm for the movie I eventually I found out that it was based a couple of stories from the book “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter. In fact, she had written the script for the film. I went on a hunt for this book and I believe I found a copy at the Watersons bookstore on Newberry Street in Boston, which was shut down shortly thereafter when a fire wreaked havoc and destroyed the place in the late 90’s.

“The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories” by Angela Carter (1987, Penguin Books)

I recall jumping to the related stories first: “The Company of Wolves”, “The Werewolf”, and “Wolf Alice”, but it was when I started reading some of the other tales that I began to fall under the spell of Ms Carter and her intoxicating, baroque prose. Every line is carefully crafted. She drops references to history, literature, fashion, cuisine, art, dance, music, she referenced things that I liked and knew about, like obscure decadent authors, but then she hinted at other things that I had yet to discover then wanted to seek out. She was sensual, sometimes explicit, and even vulgar at times, but one forgave her because of the clever or beautiful way she expressed herself. She never shied from Horror and she knew her Gothic tropes. Best of all these were less full on fantasy and more like magical realism, most of the tales took place in an identifiable setting and referenced real things that I could relate to. This also made the fantastic element stand out more and seem all the more marvelous when they appeared.

The clincher however, for me, was “The Lady of the House of Love”, a tale about a female vampire who falls prey to the whims of love. The description of this vampire woman in her lonely abode broke my heart. I wanted to write like this. I have yet to attain her greatness and most likely never will, but I shall try every time I put my pen to paper.

This what I had in mind over 15 years ago when I began writing my own fairytales. I completed 3 tales and began a 4th which is, as of today, still incomplete. I hope to wrap it up someday, but the desert is not much inspiration for such tales. Since my poetry book “Black Hymeneal” is in limbo at present, I am working on a chapbook of these Gothic Fairy Tales, which I plan to call “Mannymärchen” It shall feature the aforementioned tales: “Gothilocks”, “Belladonna”, and “Felo-de-se”, along with an introduction explaining their genesis. I shall attempt to do the cover art, and if that goes well I may try some interior artwork. More on that as things develop.

As a parting thought, I understand Carter wrote an adaptation of “Lady of the House of Love” which she called “Vampirella”. Apparently Neal Jordan had intended to film it but backed out when she passed away. Hopefully someone while pick it up someday and film it. I would love to see it come to life(?).

 

“The Eyes of My Mother” (2016)

Posted in Art-house film, Independent Horror films, movie review, The Eyes of My Mother 2016 with tags , , , on April 16, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Poster for “The Eyes of My Mother” (2016).

Last night, I saw a little film which really made an impression on me. It is an independent art-house effort called “The Eyes of My Mother” (2016). This movie was beautifully shot, in black & white, and very well acted. The dialog is minimal, but enough to keep one informed of what is going on and to give brief insight into the mind of the main character: a lovely, lonely sociopath named Francisca. It takes place in America (somewhere in rural New York) but much of the dialog is in Portuguese with English subtitles. I cannot say a lot without giving away the plot, but suffice it to say it is very disturbing, but it is neither explicit nor tasteless. Horrible things happen, but mostly off-screen. Even so, some scenes are a bit hard to watch and there are some scenes depicting taboo topics which I understand have made some critics accuse the film of pandering to exploitation. I disagree, however, because the camera never lingers on such things. There are elements of Takashi Miike’s “Audition” (1999), the Ed Gein-inspired “Deranged” (1974) and the Soska sister’s modern body horror classic “American Mary” (2012), but it also has a pathos and a subtlety which is unique unto itself. I recommend it if you are not squeamish or easily offended.

Peter S Beagle’s “In Calabria”

Posted in Peter S Beagle, unicorns, In Calabria with tags , , on April 14, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

A few months ago, I was browsing in a Barnes & Noble when a book on a display caught my eye. It was a smallish book, octavo size (my favorite), a lovely deep green color  (hunter green?) and it had what looked to be an image from a mediaeval tapestry of a unicorn in a pen.

“In Calabria” by Peter S Beagle [2017, Tachyon].

Upon closer inspection I found it to be the latest book by Peter S Beagle, the fantasy author whose most famous book, “The Last Unicorn” was made into an animated feature which is a favorite of many young lovers of fantasy. Although I own a copy of the book, as well as some of his other works, I have never read any of it because I always considered it to be a children’s book. I have read other children’s books in my adult years, but I guess the cartoon actually turned me off rather than made me want to read it. Still, I was intrigued by this beautiful book. Wary of paying full price for anything unless I am 100% certain that I want it in my collection, I held off on purchasing it, but put in a hold request for it at my local library.

The other day I received a message that it had arrived, so I checked it out. Since I tend to vegetate in front of the TV when I return from work at night, I brought it with me to work thinking that I would read it  throughout the week on my coffee breaks. Once I cracked open the book I could barely stand to put it down for the phone calls I must translate. It began a bit naively and a little too picturesque, a foreigner’s vision of life in a Southern Italian village, but it grew on me. The protagonist, Bianchi, is a short, middle-aged, grumpy farmer who lives alone with his animals, shunning society and writing poetry by night who reminded me a bit of myself. Although I am probably too lazy in my ways to run a farm, I would love to retire to the countryside to commune with nature and write.

His only point of regular contact with the rest of the village is his mailman, Romano, who suspects there is more to him than meets the eye. He is aware of Bianchi’s poetic endeavors and teases him about it, but the farmer is unyielding in his recalcitrance. Romano informs Bianchi that he is training his 23 year-old sister, Giovanna, to share his duties and that he should expect to see her soon. Bianchi is dismissive and goes back to his business.

Bianchi’s business is interrupted when he discovers a unicorn on his property. At first, he only sees it briefly before it vanishes, but eventually he is permitted to see it regularly and even approach it. He finds that it is a female and it is pregnant. He vows to protect it and keep it’s presence a secret. With the advent of this magical creature, he becomes inspired to write a lot more poetry and of a superior quality to his previous output. His life begins to revolve around his farm work and taking care of the unicorn.

One day Giovanna shows up at the farm. Wanting to see Bianchi who doesn’t greet her at the roadside to pick up his mail, she ventures onto the farm and finds him tending to the unicorn. She is overwhelmed. The unicorn however, has allowed herself to be seen, which says something. Giovanna swears to keep Bianchi’s secret and she gets him to agree to keep her in the loop and to talk to her every night on the phone to check in on the unicorn’s progress, since she only delivers the mail once a week.

Eventually, love blossoms between the unlikely pair and all seems wonderful until the secret of the unicorn gets out and the farm is swarmed by nosy villagers, media, animal rights groups, and eventually the ‘Ndrangheta (Calabrian Mafia).  Bianchi must step up and protect his animals, his mythical guest and his new love, but is he up for the task?

This is a magical book. I had a hard time keep my composure while reading some of the more emotional portions of the story. The love affair is touching albeit unlikely. It hit a bit close to home since I have been in similar May-December romances which weren’t as successful as depicted here. I find the unicorn more believable than that part of the tale. The text is peppered with Italian word and phrases, but most times one can surmise their import through context. The tale is a bit gritty in spots and comes off more as a tale of magical realism that straight fantasy. Bianchi lives a hermit’s life in a remote location, but is still living in the 21st century. The only fantastic element is the unicorn. The language is at times frank and realistic, and some situations are not the sort one might expect to find in a tale about magical creatures. There is some violence which gets a bit graphic in spots, but it is not gratuitous and Beagle does not linger on it.

I read this book in one day and loved it. It is a lot different than what I expected and I am glad I listened to my intuition and looked into it. There is much here for lovers of fantasy, as well as a well-told tale. The prose is poetic without being too self-conscious and the story is heartwarming but not cloying. I highly recommend it.

“The Recently Deflowered Girl”

Posted in Aesop, Edward Gorey, Humor, Hyacynthe Phypps, Manners, The Recently Deflowered Girl with tags , , , , , on March 22, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Just read a delightfully droll little book of manners by Hyacynthe Phypps entitled “The Recently Deflowered Girl: The Right Thing To Say On Every Dubious Occasion”, which is illustrated by Edward Gorey. Basically, it’s a book of bon mots for post-coitus conversation, each followed by a sort of summation of the situation, à la Aesop, by Ms. Phypps, and it is hilarious. I can imagine the eyebrows this little book must have raised when it first came out in 1965. See the attached scan for a sample.

The Recently Deflowered Girl (1965, Bloomsbury) artwork by Edward Gorey.

“Deflowerment in Doctor’s Office” artwork by Edward Gorey.

Thomas Ligotti’s “Songs of a Dead Dreamer”

Posted in Brandon Trenz, Clive Barker, Grimscribe: His Lives and Works, Psycho (novel), Robert Bloch, Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, Tekeli-li! (Journal of Terror), The Frolic (short film), The Hellbound Heart, Thomas Ligotti, Weird Tales with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Much has been written about Thomas Ligotti and his personal brand of psychological horror. Many have pontificated about the  hidden meanings behind his enigmatic stories and thus proven their total lack of comprehension towards his art. I do not profess to understand the mind of this troubled genius nor shall I embarrass myself by putting forth my take, as it were. Instead, I will tell you briefly how I came to hear about him, totally misjudge him, and finally embrace the bleak nightmare vision which he delineates so eloquently.

I first came across Thomas Ligotti sometime in the early 1990’s. At the time, I was immersed in Lovecraftiana, and was scouring the 2nd hand bookstores for anything I could find which pertained to H.P. Lovecraft and his associates. This was the era, however, where much of that sort of fiction was unfashionable and many horror publications were printing a lot of  “Splatterpunk” horror, which was known for it’s almost pornographic depiction of graphic and gruesome violence. Names associated with the scene are David Schow (the acknowledged progenitor of the genre), John Skipp, Craig Spector, and Clive Barker, to name a few.

Authors and enthusiasts of  literary horror were torn between the two camps of Splatterpunk versus what was being touted as “Sublime Horror” or horror fiction which focused more on atmosphere and implied chills than the explicit offerings of these upstart authors. I, being a traditionalist, sided with the sublime crowd, and would not even consider looking at anything which smacked of serial killers, or just visceral horror in general. This kept me from exploring many worthwhile writers, including much of Robert Bloch’s literary legacy, until fairly recently, much to my personal shame and embarrassment. I did, however, read Clive Barker’s “The Hellbound Heart” and found it to be very beautifully written, and have since loosened up and read other genre writers such as Joe R. Lansdale, whose “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road ” I found to be very enjoyable.

Somehow, inexplicably, I lumped Ligotti in that group of taboo horror writers. I think that since I knew nothing about him, and he was a contemporary of some of these other splatterpunks I just assumed he was of their ilk. In 1990 or 91 I began to purchase the latest issues of the revived Weird Tales magazine which is where Lovecraft and his cohorts first got published back in the 1920’s and 30’s. I loved the artwork, and found the digest format very attractive. I collected them and read for the first time many authors I had only heard of in passing. It is here that I first got to read Robert Bloch’s non-Psycho related fiction, although I had actually read Psycho years before and loved it; why I had disparaged the rest of his work without having read it is beyond me now. Now matter how many times I saw his name pop up between it’s pages, however, I refused to read Ligotti.

Weird Tales Ligotti Issue (Winter 1991-92), which I owned, but never read.

Then came the short-lived “Journal of Terror”, “Tekeli-Li!”, which I actually donated to a fundraiser to help get the premier issue published. I did so because they promised to focus on “Sublime Horror”. There were only four issues, and I received each one as a missive from beyond preaching the gospel of old-school horror. In the fourth and final issue, they had a Thomas Ligotti interview, as well as an essay and the short story,  “The Night School’ from his second collection “Grimscribe: His Lives and Works” (1991).

Tekeli-Li! #4 (1992)

I read much of the other stuff in the journal, but skipped the Ligotti stuff. By now you’d think I’d get the hint that he wasn’t like I thought he was, but I was a bull-headed fanboy, and I stuck to  y guns. I also, of course, passed up the opportunity to acquire many of his books in original editions which are now rare and fetch exorbitant prices, which leads us to how I finally gave in and found out what I had been missing.

In 2015 Penguin Books put out an omnibus of his first two story collections, “Songs of a Dead Dreamer”, and “Grimscribe: His Lives and Works”. I had been following their releases of classic horror since the first batch which featured many of my favorites; Poe, Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Mary Shelly, as well as Ray Russell, whom I grew to love once I read his “Haunted Castles” collection from this series. When I saw Ligotti’s name listed in the second wave of releases, I began to wonder if I had misjudge him. I read about him on Amazon, Wikipedia, etc and found that two of his influences were Poe and Lovecraft! I took a chance and ordered a 2nd hand copy of the Penguin collection from the bookstore chain I worked for and from the first tale, I was hooked.

“Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe” (2015, Penguin Books).

Now, let me clarify a big misconception about Mr. Ligotti, which I see proliferated through countless reviews of his work. Yes, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft were two of his influences, among others like Franz Kafka and Bruno Schulze, but his work is nothing like either of those writers or any other others for that matter. Ligotti is sui generis. Occasionally one may see an odd reference or tribute to one of his  mentors, like the forbidden tome (like Lovecraft’s “Necronomicon”) in “Vastarian”,  but he is his own man. His stories are beautiful nightmares. He speaks in the language of the subconscious and he mines the deep psychological hang-ups and fears of the human psyche.  Anyone looking for blood and viscera need not look here, but conversely, anyone looking for tentacled monsters from outer space are in the wrong place too. His horrors are subtle and often only wryly implied. I confess, sometimes I have to re-read a passage to get the gist of what he is trying to get at, but that is not his fault, I’m just not on the same level as he, intellectually. Ligotti doesn’t write down for the common man. His stories are for the thinking person whose vocabulary extends beyond the parameter of the latest bestseller. His concepts are deep as they are dark. He has a very nihilistic view of existence and it shows in his work. Yet, in spite of it all, I find his work inspiring.

Stand-out stories for me were the Frolic, a story about a serial child killer which in the hands of a lesser writer would have become a sordid exploitation piece, yet in Ligotti’s skillful hands it becomes and subtle tale of metaphysical horror and a nihilistic commentary about the inexorable advance of Doom. Ligotti also penned a screenplay for a short film based on this story, by Brandon Trenz, which is fairly faithful to his tale. It is only 22 minutes long, but it is worth watching if you can find it.

Poster for the film adaptation of “The Frolic” (2007).

Another stand out was  “The Chymist” from “The Nyctalops Trilogy” which is the tale of a chemist who develops a drug that allows him to have his way with the recipient, but not in the way you are most likely imagining as you read this.

There is “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story”, in which Ligotti gives a Master Class on how to write a Horror story. He creates a scenario, which he writes out in several different styles, each with a unique outcome. It is at once entertaining and indicative of his mastery of the genre.

“The Lost Art of Twilight” is a vampire tale to end all vampire tales. It is contemporary and unique in his conception on the creatures of the tale and it is truly frightening.

And the list goes on…

If you like your horror tales to be a little more involved than the zombie apocalypse of the week, and are not afraid of the dark recesses of the human psyche, then I highly recommend Thomas Ligotti’s “Songs of a Dead Dreamer”. I’ll have more to say once I read “Grimscribe”.