Chilling Chat: Episode #217 – Loren Rhoads

chillingchat

Loren Rhoads served as editor for Bram Stoker Award-nominated Morbid Curiosity magazine as well as the books The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two, Death’s Garden:Rhoads Headshots 9-18 FINAL-1782 Relationship with Cemeteries, Death’s Garden Revisited, and Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Tales of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual. Her short stories have appeared in the books Best New Horror #27, Strange California, Sins of the Sirens: Fourteen Tales of Dark Desire, Fright Mare: Women Write Horror, and most recently in the magazines Weirdbook, Occult Detective Quarterly, and Space & Time. 

NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?

LR: I remember catching a glimpse of Barnabas Collins climbing out of his coffin when I was four. I didn’t know what I was seeing at the time, but the music was so deliciously creepy! I was definitely marked for life.

NTK: Is Dark Shadows your favorite horror TV show? What is your favorite?

LR: Wow, it’s hard to choose a favorite. I loved Dark Shadows, Kolchak, and the monster of the week episodes of The X-Files. Now I’m loving Legion, which might not seem like horror, because the main character/villain is presented to be so charming. He’s really quite terrifying.

NTK: Do you prefer villains or heroes?

LR: I prefer characters who wander from one side of the equation to the other.

NTK: What do you think makes a character believable?

LR: Self-doubt.

NTK: When you write characters, do they have free will? Or are their actions predetermined?

LR: They definitely have minds of their own. I generally write to find out what I think, rather than the other way around, so I just wind my characters up and watch them go.

NTK: What is your favorite horror novel?

LR: The one I’ve read the most is Dracula. I find something new in it every time I read it. Other than that, my second favorite changes from day to day.

NTK: Do you have a favorite horror film?

LR: Alien. The first one. I still find it scary.

NTK: Is it the fear factor, or the fact that people are pulling together to fight a greater evil that attracts you to the story?

LR: I like watching Ripley, who is marginalized and ignored, turn out to be right. She knows what the protocol is supposed to be, but the more-emotional men overrule her and get killed for it. Watching Ripley, who has discounted herself, realize that she’s resourceful enough to survive is amazing. And the monster still haunts my nightmares all these years later.

NTK: You are a well-known cemetery aficionado and I have been dying to ask you this question, have you ever been to Colma, CA?

LR: Oh so many times!

NTK: What’s it like?

LR: The absolute best. There are 17 cemeteries in town, one right beside the next. They range from Japanese to Chinese to Italian (full of sculpture) to Jewish to Catholic to a former Masonic cemetery to a former potter’s field. There’s even a pet cemetery!

They say 1 million people are buried in Colma but there are only 1,000 live ones.

Wyatt Earp is buried there, and Levi Strauss, and Emperor Norton (the only Emperor of North America and Protector of Mexico). It’s lovely and sad and full of treasures.

I don’t know if you know the history of the graveyards of San Francisco, but in the early 20th century, all of them were dug up and the bodies hauled to Colma. There are several huge mass graves down there. Even so, people keep finding bodies that were missed somehow and weren’t moved.

Several years ago, a woman doing yard work found an iron coffin with a little girl in it, still perfectly preserved, and visible through a glass window into the coffin.

NTK: What inspired you to edit the anthology, Death’s Garden Revisited

LR:  I wanted to assemble a book that illuminated all the reasons people visit cemeteries. Once I started asking people to tell me about the cemeteries they have a relationship with, stories started flooding in. I am really proud of how this book turned out.

NTK: What authors are included in the anthology?

LR: Contributors include horror authors A. M. Muffaz, Angela Yuriko Smith, Christine Sutton, Denise N. Tapscott, E.M. Markoff, Emerian Rich, Frances Lu-Pai Ippolito, Francesca Maria, Greg Roensch, Mary Rajotte, Melodie Bolt, Priscilla Bettis, Rain Graves, Rena Mason, Robert Holt, R.L. Merrill, Saraliza Anzaldua, Stephen Mark Rainey, and Trish Wilson – and then there are all the others who don’t write horror. There are 40 authors in all.

NTK: How many cemeteries have you visited since you first became interested in them? 

LR: At a guess, hundreds. One of these days, I’m going to have to sit down and count them all. On one of my favorite vacations, my husband and I went to 18 graveyards between Boston and Gettysburg in a little more than a week.

NTK: How many cemeteries outside of the U.S.?

LR: I just made a quick list and I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but 51 so far. That includes the thirteen burial grounds I counted in Italy–which is the most I’ve visited in one country outside the US–but in Italy, there are people buried in every church, so I’m sure that doesn’t include every grave I saw there. I’ve been to cemeteries in England, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, and the Czech Republic, as well as in Singapore and Japan. Clearly, there are a lot of countries left to see!

NTK: Have you ever experienced anything strange or paranormal when you visited a cemetery?

LR: I’ve never seen a ghost, but I’ve had spooky things happen. I was on a ghost hunt in a cemetery in Oakland when I felt a weird, cold sensation in the back of my neck. Turns out, I was standing over a fallen headstone that had been covered with sod. Even the docent didn’t know it was there!

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

LR: I’m so glad you asked that! I’m finishing up a book called Still Wish You Were Here, which is a sequel to my first cemetery memoir. It is a collection of my own cemetery essays, stuff that was published in Gothic.Net, Gothic Beauty, Morbid Curiosity magazine, and a bunch of other places. After that, I’m thinking about getting back to my novel The Death of Memory. So many books, so little time!

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Loren!

LR: Thank you so much, Naching!

Addicts, you can find Loren on Facebook, Twitter, and at Cemetery Travel.

Asian Horror Month: Colors, Fox Demons, and Folklore in “The Ninth Tale”

Colors, Fox Demons, and Folklore in “The Ninth Tale” from Black Cranes Anthology

By Rena Mason

It’s never one thing that inspires me to write any story, and the same was true for “The Ninth Tale.” With the popular resurgence of a modernized Huli Jing, (Pinyin – húlijīng) or Fox Demon/Spirit portrayed in anime and video games with a blending of cultures and added superpowers, many of the original stories get muddled and lost to younger generations. Because of my mainly Chinese heritage, which I grew up knowing little about, I wanted to write a classic folktale-style story using the Chinese mythos versus the versions from other countries like the Japanese Kitsune, or Korean Kumiho. 

In Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, a collection of myths, fables, and stories written in the mid 1600s to early 1700s, the majority of the works about the Huli Jing, Songling depicted the demon, and all women for that matter, as villains and the explanation behind men’s troubles. I knew I needed to take that and crush it. So I placed the character, traditionally seen and feared as a powerful woman, and set her in a time when the sexist practice of foot binding was at its peak yet nearing its end with changes occurring in the country’s political climate. Her complete disdain and disregard for the practice along with her sympathy for the women forced or encouraged to do it sets a character trait I wanted for my Huli Jing in the story. 

I’ve always been fascinated by the contrast between the reverence for, and fear of women in East Asian mythos compared to the treatment of East Asian women by their male counterparts throughout history. I’m certain my curiosity began with the first stories I ever heard from my mom about powerful Thai female ghosts who’d enact their rage and vengeance upon their spouses. 

Another component I wanted to incorporate in the story was East Asian interpretations for colors I’d mostly seen used in movies. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I was introduced to Zhang Yimou’s films. JU DOU was the first, and I was mesmerized by the story, but most of all by the colors that cued my emotional responses during different scenes (although I didn’t realize they were having that effect on me at the time). Culturally, I grew up knowing that different colors symbolize different things, and Yimou had tapped into this ingrained knowledge visually. It took me years and several of his movies to figure out what he’d done. Not until HERO was it so obvious and profound. So I was taken aback when I watched SHADOW this past year in its beautiful but bleak monochrome hues. Where were the colors? The lack of them made me suspicious of all the characters. I felt dread and impending doom and not much else. Then it hit me during The Black Cranes Skeleton Hour panel that every character in the movie is a shade of bad, or black, hence the monochrome hues. Yimou had done it again but with the absence of color—genius. PAINTED SKIN, taken from one of the stories in Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, loosely adapted by filmmaker Gordon Chang, uses colors this way in his acclaimed film as well. But could I pull it off in a written story? I had to try. 

Red or vermillion is a popular color in Chinese culture, symbolizing luck, joy, and happiness. It also represents celebration, vitality, and fertility in traditional Chinese color symbolism. Think of the red envelopes handed out for Chinese New Year and on other celebratory occasions, and the “power” tie color businessmen wear with suits. Chinese brides wear red to ward off evil. The color also represents the summer and the element of fire. Red is the only color that has two different and almost opposite meanings, as it can also represent jealousy and anger. 

—In “The Ninth Tale” the Huli Jing sets off on her journey and is excited and feeling happy, so I emphasized that with the scarlet leaves. I pictured her pale skin glowing red underneath the canopy as she headed out of the forest to complete her celestial ascension.

Yellow is an imperial color in traditional Chinese color symbolism, representing power, royalty, and prosperity. It also represents the late summer season, the central direction, and earth. 

—As the Huli Jing meets the farmer in his wheat fields, the yellow represents the future prosperity she would bestow upon him and his family for revering her. (Although banned, Fox Spirit worship is rumored to exist to this day in parts of northern China.)

Gold symbolizes wealth and riches in Chinese culture as well as most other cultures. 

—In the very beginning of “The Ninth Tale” the Huli Jing acquires a pair of slippers embroidered with a gold chrysanthemum. A double meaning, since gold represents riches and the chrysanthemum represents nobility. I also used the color gold when describing the farmer’s wheat fields because good crops are representative of wealth. 

Blue represents the element of wood, and symbolizes freedom, the heavens, immortality and advancement. 

—When the Huli Jing in “The Ninth Tale” meets Xin, her rival, the young woman is pale and underwater with a blue hue to her skin, hinting at Xin’s character being carefree. That she’s feeling indestructible, and wanting advancement.

Green is similar to blue, but also represents harmony, wealth, growth, cleanliness and purity from contamination. 

—In the story, the Huli Jing is often flying and dancing in the air with evergreen branches behind her, showcasing the Fox Demon’s ability to remain unfazed by the ordinary around her. 

Black represents water, and also symbolizes destruction, evil, cruelty, and sadness. Hei is Chinese for black, but it also stands for bad luck, irregularity, and illegality. 

—When the Huli Jing visits her lover Zhang, it is always at night, under the cloak of darkness, and his black hair, and dark eyes, and all the shadows and absence of color in his room portend his “deception” and the evil of his character in the story. 

White represents the metal element in traditional Chinese culture, and also symbolizes purity and innocence. It’s also commonly associated with death, mourning, and funerals in China. 

—From the white light that comes from the Huli Jing when she’s injured, emanating from her celestial self, to their glowing faces in the moonlight, I used a lot of white toward the end of the story to symbolize death and the Huli Jing’s ascension to the heavens. I also used the silver blade to represent the metal element of white. 

In the end, I felt I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do when I’d thought of how I’d wanted to write my Huli Jing story. I’ve never really paid much attention to what colors might mean in stories that I’d read, but I know now that I’ll take a closer look and scrutinize whether or not the author wants me to feel a certain way with the colors they incorporate into their stories. 

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Rena Mason is an American horror author of Thai-Chinese descent, and a three-time Bram Stoker Award® winner of the The Evolutionist and The Devil’s Throat, as well as a 2014 Stage 32 /The Blood List Search for New Blood Screenwriting Contest Quarter-Finalist. She has short stories, novelettes, and novellas published in various anthologies and magazines and writes a monthly column. 

She is a member of the Horror Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, The International Screenwriters’ Association, and the Public Safety Writers Association. 

An avid scuba diver, she enjoys traveling the world and incorporating the experiences into her stories. She currently resides in Reno, Nevada but plans to relocate to the Pacific Northwest in 2021. For more information visit her website: www.RenaMason.Ink 

or follow her at:

Facebook: rena.mason 

Twitter: @RenaMason88 

Stage 32: Rena Mason

Instagram: rena.mason 

In the works, she’s co-editing and reading submissions for the next HWA anthology Other Fears slated for publication with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2022. She’s excited to be participating in an anthology that will amplify diverse voices in horror and for her role in representing the long line of great horror from the HWA Presents publications. Her next novel is near completion, and she is also writing some nonfiction, short fiction, and a screenplay. 

 

David’s Haunted Library: The Beauty Of Death

David's Haunted Library

30732852There are a lot of horror anthologies out there and it’s not always easy to find one that you think you would like. That being said sometimes you find a horror anthology that when you see it you know you can’t go wrong. The Beauty Of Death: The Gargantuan Book of Horror Tales is that book. Edited by Alessandro Manzetti, this book includes stories by such great horror authors as Tim Waggoner, John Skipp, Poppy Z Brite, Peter Straub and many more. This is one mammoth collection that all horror fans should have.

One of my favorite stories in this collection is Carly Is Dead by Shane McKenzie. This story is told from the viewpoint of a rotting corpse in a field who is being eaten by the forest animals but is still aware of what’s going on. Who would have thought you could have sympathy for a corpse. Another good hard-core gore story is White Trash Gothic by Edward Lee. This one has to do with an author who gets amnesia due to a traumatic event and he travels to where he wrote his last book to find out what happened. I loved how Mr. Lee makes you feel compassion for the author and then throws him into a bizarre situation that will make you fear going to a small town.

Another one of my favorites was Calcutta, Lord Of Nerves by Poppy Z. Brite. This one is about a boy born in Calcutta, he is moved to America but returns after his father dies and the zombie apocalypse starts. In Calcutta things are so bad it’s hard to tell the poor people from the zombies and weird things happen as we find out that the zombies may be worshiping an old God. My favorite scene in the book is when the lead character excepts that zombies are just part of the world now and he doesn’t think they’re that bad.

It’s really hard to pick favorites in this book and if I wrote about each story here this review would be a book in itself. Other stories that stood out for me were The Office by Kevin Lucia which is a psychological horror story about a  man who relives his life through his favorite place, his office. Another one is No Place Like Home by JG Faherty which follows a man who bought a haunted house that changes his life for the better. Things get bloody though when someone tries to get him to give it up. In The Garden is one by Lisa Morton that really got to me. In this one a woman lives in a house and is taking care of her crippled brother when something in her garden causes him to get better, I loved how Lisa made you feel compassion for the lead character and then hits you with a shock ending.

The Beauty Of Death deserves a spot on every horror fans book shelf. When I first saw it I knew I had to have it and I wasn’t disappointed. This book reminded me of The Year’s Best Horror anthologies that come out each year, but The Beauty Of Death has more to offer. Every story here has the anatomy of a good horror story and focuses on characters dealing with their worst fears and considering its length it will keep you scared and reading for a long time.