Dark Divinations: Miss Mae’s Prayers

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The Inspiration Behind “Miss Mae’s Prayers.”

By H.R.R. Gorman

Miss Mae’s Prayers” was inspired by the area where I grew up. The Southern Appalachians are steeped in a rich history of superstitions, most of which are about health or weather, and many of which are considered about as Gospel truth as, well, the Gospels themselves.

The titular character, Miss Mae, is based on my next-door neighbor growing up (though “next door” meant something more like half-mile or a mile away). Though she’d grown up in a staunchly Christian community, somehow she’d made the decision to believe in no god. As a result, she was considered to be witchy, especially since the childless woman lived to be 102 before finally succumbing to pneumonia. Despite her status, she knew many mountain folk-cures and gave sought-after advice to others in the community.

Common practices in modern mountain churches stem from Baptist and Methodist missionaries that arrived in the late 1800’s. Circuit preaching, revivals, and camp meetings still happen in the mountains with surprising regularity, and they hearken to a time when only a few preachers tramped around the woods in search of souls to save. The story focuses on a highly respected circuit preacher who is skeptical of the mountain ways.

Elements of the present remind us of the past that created “Miss Mae’s Prayers”, and I hope reading this short can transport you to a fantastical world without the need to attend an old camp meeting…

HRR GormanGrowing up, H.R.R. Gorman listened to a circuit preacher every Sunday at her local church near Boone, North Carolina, and has accepted supernatural medical advice from neighbors and relatives. She now holds a BS, MS, and Ph.D. in chemical engineering, with which she makes modern cures for those less superstitiously inclined. In her spare time, H.R.R. enjoys training her dog, Hector, and playing Dungeons and Dragons with her husband.  

Chilling Chat: Dark Divinations – H.R.R. Gorman

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Growing up, H.R.R. Gorman listened to a circuit preacher every Sunday at her local church near Boone, North Carolina, and has accepted supernatural medical HRR Gormanadvice from neighbors and relatives. She now holds a BS, MS, and Ph.D. in chemical engineering, with which she makes modern cures for those less superstitiously inclined. In her spare time, H.R.R. enjoys training her dog, Hector, and playing Dungeons and Dragons with her husband. 

How did you become interested in the Victorian era?

I’ve descended from a distinctive stock of poor Southern Appalachian people, grew up amongst Southerners, and have decided to keep North Carolina as my forever home. Throughout my life, I’ve been steeped in the continuing legacy of the Civil War and reconstruction in the South; though the war is long over, its effects still linger in many devious and dark corners of Southern society. I have enjoyed studying the war itself, the politics surrounding it, the cruelty that fomented it, and the devastation of its results. You don’t often think of things like Gone with the Wind as being Victorian, but they are.

What is your favorite Victorian horror story?

Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” has long been an inspiration when I write Southern gothic fiction (though Bierce himself was, bless his heart, not a Southerner). Written in 1890, it’s a story about a plantation owner awaiting his execution over an Alabama bridge, rope already around his neck. What happens next I’ll leave for you to find out – the story is in the public domain and can be found on Project Gutenberg for free.

Do you have a favorite Victorian horror movie? What attracted you to this film?

I don’t think I have a favorite Victorian horror movie. However, I must say I enjoyed the Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell series on BBC, which has a spine-tingling feel and is set during the Napoleonic wars. It’s not quite Victorian because the industrial revolution wasn’t in full force, but it’s got a lot of similarities to steampunk or later 19th-century stories.

Are your characters based on real people?

Some of them are. In the story found here, for instance, Miss Mae was based on a real person. She was my neighbor growing up and died at 102. People respected her health advice (she pretty much saved my own mother when she had the flu sometime in the 1980’s), but many community members were scared of her because she was an atheist. “Godlessness” was unheard of for someone in our community. I changed her character a little bit for the story, such as making her a little witchy instead of an atheist, but much of her character still remains substantially the same as the person I knew.

Do you use an outline to write? Or do you write by the seat of your pants?

I never outline anything, but I know in my head what kind of plot will happen. I make characters and a problem to solve, and most of the time I have an idea how to solve the problem, but I allow the story from beginning to end to take its own natural course. It’s like playing Dungeons and Dragons, but just in my head.

Do your characters have free will? Or do you decide their fate?

A little of both – I give them free will, but oftentimes I write myself into a corner where I don’t like where it’s going. In those cases, I tend to delete everything back to where I believe the disastrous decision was made and try to force them into choosing something else.

What are you most afraid of?

It’s a tie between Ebola, rabies, Ebola rabies, tetanus, tooth decay, polio, cancer, Hell, and septic shock.

What is your favorite form of divination?

I’m not much of one to believe in divination, but I am intrigued by cold reading.

Who is your favorite horror author?

Southern Gothic has always been near and dear to my heart, so probably Faulkner. His short “A Rose for Emily,” is probably the single-most inspiring story for any of my writing. I’m more into softer, creepy horror than the stabby jump-scare horror.

Other than that, I will admit I have a soft spot for Rod Serling…

What does the future hold for you? What books, short stories, or works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

Dark Divinations is the first anthology I’ve appeared in, but I’m just revving my engines and hoping to participate in more anthologies.

In the meantime, I post fairly regularly on my WordPress blog and am offering a free Southern gothic sci-fi novel called American Chimera. It’s being posted serially through the end of 2020 or can be downloaded immediately as a PDF.

Dark Divinations: Damnation in Venice

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The Inspiration Behind “Damnation in Venice”

By Joe L. Murr

I saw the call for submissions for Dark Divinations a week or so after I read Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. So I had Venice on my mind. I had the character of Gustav von Aschenbach – the sickly, doomed writer and his unrequited passion, a self-portrait of Mann – on my mind. Then images from Nicolas Roeg’s film Don’t Look Now – the foggy passageways of Venice leading to a death foretold – flashed into my mind. And all of that suggested a story and characters. The final story evolved into something very different from what I originally had in mind – but that was the moment the seed was planted.

joelmurr-photoJoe L. Murr has lived on every continent except Antarctica and now divides his time between Finland and the Netherlands. His short fiction has been published in magazines such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Chizine and Noir Nation, and most recently in the anthology The Summer of Lovecraft.

Chilling Chat: Dark Divinations – Joe L. Murr

DarkDivBannerJoe L. Murr has lived on every continent except Antarctica and now divides his time between Finland and the Netherlands. His short fiction has been published in magazinesjoelmurr-photo such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Chizine and Noir Nation, and most recently in the anthology “The Summer of Lovecraft.”

How did you become interested in the Victorian era?

As a kid, I devoured stories about Victorian adventurers in distant lands. That’s where it started. I especially loved H. Rider Haggard and Jules Verne. Later on, I was fascinated to learn more about the era through a wider lens.

What is your favorite Victorian horror story? 

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. To be honest, I haven’t read all that much horror written during the Victorian era – mainly the usual suspects: Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, etc. I keep meaning to get stuck into Sheridan LeFanu.

Do you have a favorite Victorian horror movie? What attracted you to this film?

One of my favorite films of all time is The Innocents. Chilling and masterfully made, it gets under my skin every time I watch it.

Are your characters based on real people?

Yes and no. I usually draw on the characteristics of people I’ve known, but I don’t recall ever basing a character solely on someone particular. Sometimes, as in the case of “Damnation in Venice,” one of the characters was loosely inspired by a fictional character that was based on a real person.

Do you use an outline to write? Or do you write by the seat of your pants?

I usually prep a loose outline before starting to write – however, it’s very fluid, and I usually replot extensively as I go on. The main purpose of the outline is to help me ensure that the underlying structure is sound.

Do your characters have free will? Or do you decide their fate?

They tell me what they’ll do next. I often find myself revising the plot because it turns out that a character wouldn’t do what I initially thought they’d do.

What are you most afraid of?

A blank page (shudder).

What is your favorite form of divination?

I sometimes perform a Tarot reading for myself. The cards are a mirror.

Who is your favorite horror author?

It’s really hard to pick just one, but if I absolutely had to, Clive Barker had the greatest impact on me, particularly the Books of Blood.

What does the future hold for you? What books, short stories, or works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

I’ve vowed to write a saleable novel at some point, so I’m currently working on outlines and fragments to test out viable ideas. Mainly, I enjoy writing short stories, mostly horror and crime. Most recently, I’ve had stories published in Summer of Lovecraft: Cosmic Horror in the 1960s (an anthology from Dark Regions Press) and Shooter Literary Magazine in the UK.