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Gods Gonna Cut You Down

Many country western songs, especially those favored by Johnny Cash, seem to exist in a bleak Weird West haunted by wailing winds and ruled by Old Testament justice.  Listen to ‘Ain’t No Grave’, ‘The Man Comes Around’, or ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ and you’ll see what I mean.

The song ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ has always painted vivid pictures in my mind.  In the song God tells John to let five sinners (the long tongued liar, the midnight rider, the rambler, the gambler and the back biter) know that they’re marked for judgment.  I wondered who these colorful characters were, and how they had ended up on the wrong side of God’s Law.  Who was John, the chosen messenger and avenger of the almighty?

Inspired, I decided to write my first story in the weird western genre.  Happily, my piece found the perfect home in SONG STORIES : BLAZE OF GLORY.  This is the second anthology from Song Stories Press featuring tales created from music.

Song Stories Blaze of Glory cover

In order to ground the ‘Weird’ I  wanted to make the historical details of my ‘West’ as accurate as I could.  Here are a few notes about the WEIRD.

MEET THE GANG:

The Long Tongued Liar

orochimaru

I chose the Long Tongued Liar to head up my band of outlaws.  The name conjured up Orochimaru, the scheming master of serpents and my favorite villain from the manga Naruto.  With God as long arm of the law, however, I knew my outlaws should be hell-spawn.  I searched the tomes of demonology for an appropriate counterpart and found Jezebeth, the Demoness of Falsehoods.  It’s hard to track down reliable information about her, but what else would you expect?

The Midnight Rider

ghost_riders

I have always wanted to write a weird western tale about the song ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’.

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil’s herd, across these endless skies

With that character already in mind, I had my Midnight Rider.

The Rambler

medicinewagon

How to make rambling seem villainous?  I had a choice between a character that moved around a lot or one that talked too much.  I chose that latter and created Giovanni Mountebank, the loquacious showman behind “Dr. Giovanni Mountebank’s Medicine Show & Traveling Dime Museum.”

plague-doctor

A clue to Giovanni’s origins is the sinister bird mask that hangs above his clockwork wagon.  He was born in the Dark Ages, where he began his dubious career in medicine as a Plague Doctor.  While no medical training or experience was necessary, Plague Doctors had the special authority not only to record the Last Will and Testament of their patients, but to perform their autopsies as well.  Imagine the possibilities for corruption and you get an idea of Giovanni’s path to the dark side.

The Gambler

Navajo god 2

Every weird western needs a Skinwalker, and Nayenezgani Biwosi is mine.  His first name comes from the monster slaying hero of Navajo mythology.  Tucked into the background of all my demon outlaws is the story of righteous men corrupted by Jezebeth.  The name Biwosi comes from Hastiin Biwosi, the first Navajo killed in the witch purge of 1878.

In the gambling halls of the badlands, however, he is known as ‘The Suicide King’.  His favorite game is ‘Russian Roulette’ (although the term hadn’t been invented yet).  A skinwalker can assume the form of any hide or fur he is wearing.  The Gambler keeps a coyote pelt draped over his fancy clothes, but he plays for the skin of his victims.

The Backbiter

NosferatuShadow

I wanted to round out my rogues’ gallery with a vampire.  I needed to find a different angle on it as well as a way for a vampire to move around in the harsh sun baked southwest.  My solution was twofold: conjoined twins, one living, one undead.

siamese twins skeleton

John

civil war soldier

The grim avenger in this story is a mysterious man known only as John.  He hides scars beneath his deerskin gloves, carries thirty pieces of silver and wields an antiquated blunderbuss pistol loaded with crucifixion nails.  He once walked a very different path, but Jezebeth destroyed everything he knew.  Check out the story to find out more.

Pistol_Bayonet

Song Stories: Blaze of Glory on Amazon Paperback and Kindle

Song Story Press

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Looking for Van Helsing

The legend of DRACULA, as written in the classic novel by Bram Stoker, has spawned countless works of fiction.  Legends often contain a kernel of truth, however, and the character of Dracula is believed to be based on the real historical figure Vlad the Impaler, the notorious 14th century prince of Wallachia.

New evidence has been unearthed that another enduring character from Bram Stoker’s novel may also have some basis in reality: the courageous ‘vampire hunter’ Abraham Van Helsing.  Author Ed Erdelac found surprising clues about the real life doctor and used them to create a sequel to Dracula, with his new novel, TEROVOLAS.

I asked Mr. Erdelac to describe his research and tell us about the ‘real’ Abraham Van Helsing.

When did you first make your discovery?

Back in the summer of 1997 when I was living in Uptown Chicago, I landed a seasonal job carrying old boxes of documents back and forth from the basements of the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library during this big re-organizational push they were having.  At the back of a shelf, I found a large box marked for the Ravenwood collection that had (in my opinion) been deliberately mislaid.  It was posted from Purfleet in England, and contained a series of dated, sealed packets ranging from the 1860’s to about 1934, and accompanying letters from Dr. John Seward to the head of the university’s archaeology department in 1935.

The name Seward was familiar to me, but I didn’t realize it was that Jack Seward until one day on lunch, avoiding my student supervisor, I cracked open one of the packets out of curiosity and started reading.

What I’d found that day was what I now call The Van Helsing Papers, a series of personal journals translated from Dutch, and organized into packets with relevant correspondences and newspaper articles that all served to convince me that the Abraham Van Helsing, who famously opposed Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s seminal novel of 1897, was a real person with a long and fascinating career in the fledgling field of paranormal investigation.

What is the premise of this book?

For the first release of Van Helsing’s papers, I decided to cover the period immediately following the events of Dracula, as I thought it would garner the most interest, considering the continued popularity of the ‘novel.’

Eight months after the conclusion of the Dracula affair, Van Helsing committed himself to Jack Seward’s asylum in Purfleet, as he was suffering from violent delusions brought about by his mortal encounter with the count’s three vampiric wives.  Disposing of three sleeping women had taken its toll on Van Helsing emotionally, and Seward diagnosed him (possibly incorrectly, but I’m not a psychiatrist) with melancholic lycanthropea.

After several months of psychiatric care he was released, and discovered the cremated remains and personal effects of Quincey P. Morris, the Texan who died in the Carpathians fighting Dracula and his followers, were still in the possession of Arthur Holmwood, Lord Godalming, who was tied up with legal affairs that originated with the recent death of his father.

Van Helsing volunteered to take Morris’ remains back to the Morris family ranch in Sorefoot, Texas, partly in the hopes of getting in some relaxing downtime, but it didn’t work out that way.

Morris’ estranged brother, Coleman, was in the midst of a land dispute with a neighboring outfit of Norwegian cattlemen led by a man named Sigmund Skoll, and only a few days after Van Helsing’s arrival, Cole’s foreman Early Searls and Sheriff G.B. Turlough were murdered. Slaughtered, might be a better word.

Needless to say, Van Helsing, being on hand, offered to lend his expertise, and gathered enough evidence from the crime scene to suspect a supernatural force was at work.  But of course, having only recently left the asylum, he was worried he had begun regressing to his previous aberrant mental state.

I don’t want to give too much away, of course.  Read the book.

Do you think your credits as a fiction writer will make people dismiss your research on the ‘real’ Van Helsing?

Well, there is a danger of that, yeah. But I believe fate put a seventy year old document in my lap for a reason. I could have spent another fifteen years shopping The Van Helsing Papers around to someone with scholarly credentials, but I think I’d probably have run into the same problems as Seward, the original compiler. People like that generally aren’t willing to put their reputations on the line. I have no reputation to risk, in that regard.

I think the truth of The Van Helsing Papers aren’t for everyone. But if it’s available to anyone, then I think the people who are looking for the truth will find it, and that’s more important than getting a blurb from some academic on the back cover.

You contend that Count Dracula was based on a historical figure.  You have pointed out that Bram Stoker describes Prof. Van Helsing’s appearance and personality in far greater detail than his other characters.  Do you believe that once the public has a chance to review your case the existence of the ‘real’ Van Helsing will become ‘common knowledge’?

Well, first off, I’m personally not sure about the popular notion that Dracula is Vlad Tepes.

That’s not implicitly stated in Dracula and not really my area of study.  I know there’s a lot of speculation about that, and I understand the theory has come under question recently, but it doesn’t really concern me.  I don’t have access to the documents which Stoker used to write Dracula and the Count’s past isn’t relevant to anything in The Van Helsing Papers.

I believe the Count Dracula that Van Helsing and company contended with existed, yes.  Van Helsing conjectures some about his origins, but I don’t think he discovered it in the course of his investigation.  He was understandable preoccupied in trying to preserve Mina Harker’s life.  At any rate, Van Helsing’s battle with Dracula was only a single incident in a long career.

In the past fifteen years I’ve uncovered a lot.  I’ve seen his death certificate (he died in 1934 in Holysloot, North Holland), for one thing, and I have a copy of a book he translated into Dutch for his colleague Arminius Vambery (Western Cultures In Eastern Lands is the English title), and there’s mention of him in the personal papers of T.E. Lawrence and Flinders Petrie for example (though I doubt you’ll get confirmation of that from any of their biographers).  After the publication of Dracula though, he became something of a pariah in the academic community, and even many of the people who called on his expertise in later years went a long way to suppress their associations with him.

Of course I hope the real man will come to the world’s attention, that’s my intent, but the public is fickle and strange.  In a culture that celebrates Twilight, it’s popular for men like Van Helsing to be portrayed as monsters, and we like our monsters fictional.

Witch hunts and vampire panics are well documented in Europe and America, but evidence of superstitious practices is not the same thing as proof that those superstitions were correct.  Even if the historical Doctor Van Helsing did believe in vampires, what makes you think other elements of the Dracula story are true?

I would urge you to read Terovolas. Because if the primary accounts in it are true, and from my years of cross checking and corresponding with historical societies and descendants of the participants, and visits to the actual locations (there’s an old tombstone at the Fairview Cemetery in Bastrop, Texas for example, on which you can still make out the name Coleman Morris, and the Bowie knife Quincey used on Dracula is probably the same one I traced to the Autry Museum here in Los Angeles) I can verify that they probably are, then chances are better than average the things portrayed in Dracula are real as well.

But of course, Dracula was presented as fiction, and compiled by Stoker at the behest of the Harkers. It’s possible that some things in it were spruced up. I can’t speak for it 100% as I don’t have access to that segment of Van Helsing’s personal papers. They were taken from him by an undisclosed party during his stay at Purfleet. All that of course, will probably come to light in a later publication, once the legalities of it are sorted out.

But there are further references to Count Dracula elsewhere in The Van Helsing Papers, including an incident in 1898 or so involving his Gypsy followers, so I know that they at least existed, and believed in Dracula’s powers, and exercised inexplicable abilities of their own.

Anyone interested in the fictional world of Dracula or the real life travels of Dr. Van Helsing should read TEROVOLAS.  The story is a must for horror fans and the depth of research available in the footnotes will thrill fans of historical horror.  Get the book now at http://journal-store.com/fiction/terovolas/

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On the importance of flossing daily

My short horror story TOOTH AND BONE will appear in Short Sips, the second volume of Coffee House Flash Fiction from Wicked East Press.  The story details the unfortunate meeting of an unscrupulous dentist and a patient in dire need of the dental arts.

I’ve spent a lot of time in dentist chairs, and that is where this story was conceived.  I was going through a particularly vigorous deep gum cleaning when I thought, “How strange it must be to put your hands into a total stranger’s mouth?”  The story came back to me recently as I was having a root canal performed (for a second time).  I kept the thinking about it when I lost
the crown on the fresh root canal.  By the time I went back for the new crown I owed nearly $2,000.

The dentist had a long list of other things that needed to be done.  And things that needed to be redone.  This may have colored the tone of the final story a bit.  It’s not a happy story, but I hope you’ll think it’s a fun one.

My dentist says that if you ignore your teeth they’ll go away.  I say watch where you put your fingers.

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Mining a shared world – Avenir Eclectia

If you build a big enough sand box there’s room for everyone to play.  That’s the idea behind shared world fiction, and if you like anthologies with multiple points of view it’s as fun to read as it is to write.  I currently have two stories due to appear on the multi-author website AVENIR ECLECTIA.

Anyone can become a ‘historian’ of the new multi-author cross genre world of Avenir Eclectia.  Submit a piece of flash fiction (150-400 words) about something new or explore the environments and characters already created.  The story thus far:  Mankind has travelled for countless centuries across the universe in the generation ship Avenir.  The ship acts like a space station, perched between the shattered volcanic moon Sheba and the unstable planet Eclectia below.  While the rich relax aboard the Avenir, desperate people hunt giant insects for food on the hard scrabble world below.  Beneath the surface of the oceans people live in underwater cities, where many hope for a glimpse of the mysterious telepathic creatures that glide by the glassy walls.

My stories EVOLUTION and the forthcoming LEVIATHAN tell the story of Dr. Kwame Singh, a social scientist who is pioneering a new field of inquiry he calls Evolutionary Theology, or ‘EvoTheo’.  He is interested in how the long migration from earth and new environments have made religions mutate and evolve.  He begins his research as a detached observer but soon finds himself experiencing strange revelations.

The first story takes place mainly on Sheba, an ore rich moon that has been split in half by a cataclysmic event.  The rugged miners who pull the Iridium ore up to the surface have created a chapel 30 km below the surface called New St. Kinga’s.  The chapel was inspired by real world locations found in salt mines around the world.  St. Kinga is the patron saint of salt miners, and there are hand carved chapels dedicated to her in Poland and Columbia.  These churches were all lovingly crafted from salt as places of refuge and devotion for miners.

St. Kinga's chapel, poland

Wieliczka salt mine, Poland

Bochnia salt mine chapel

Bochnia Salt Mine, Poland

colombian salt mine church

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, Columbia

Splashdown Books, the publisher of Avenir Eclectia, will also be releasing a print anthology titled AQUASYNTHESIS.  Look for it this summer.  When my second story appears, on-line or in print, I will share some more of my research.

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