Archive of ‘weirdies’ category

A super fucking interesting chat: Sonya Vatomsky

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Sonya Vatomsky, lovely new friend, and author of Salt Is for Curing, has been interviewed previously by some very smart people who have asked some excellent questions of this ghostly poet of the witchy and intense.  I am not one of those people.

In my initial spurt of nosiness about this exquisite creature, I uncovered  a handful of informative, well-written and wonderfully interesting interviews with our subject today. And my conclusion is that there’s not much I can ask Sonya Vatomsky about poetry and the writing process that another more intelligent and more articulate person has not already shared with us. And as a matter of fact, I encourage you all to read these previous interviews when you can, because they offer fantastic insight into Sonya’s works.

I am, however going to ask some fun questions, which I have shared below, and we are offering a giveaway consisting of a signed copy of Salt Is For Curing, –so I hope you will continue reading!

I became acquainted with Sonya in early 2016 when I noticed that a user on Instagram calling themselves @coolniceghost started following my account. Normally I don’t pay a lot of attention to new followers on social media but an interesting username always piques my interest.  And come on…. COOL + NICE + GHOST!  That sounded too good to be true–I wanted to believe this mystery internet person is all of these things!

I discovered, with just a little bit of poking around on the internet, that this indeed all true. @coolniceghost turned out to be a poet named Sonya Vatomsky, (A POET! You know my heart exploded with this knowledge) whom I found on facebook and reached out right away to say hello. And here we are.

Sonya has written two collections, My Heart In Aspic, a book of :”sensory-rich poetry investigating the body, decay/fracture, rich marrow, salted flesh, and breathing in all the dark things”, as well as the more recent Salt Is For Curing, which is described deliciously by author Ariana Reines as “a feast, a grimoire, a fairy tale world, the real world. It’s also too smart for bullshit and too graceful to be mean about the bullshit”.

apotheosis

{Apotheosis / Salt Is For Curing by Sonya Vatomsky}

In my reading of Salt Is For Curing, it took all that I had not to devour this small book of spooky delights in one greedy instant. I feared that to do so, to ingest all of these potent magics at once, would give me a terribly heartsick sort of heartburn and yet leave me with the very worst sort of emptiness, knowing there is no more to be had. I drew it out for as long as I could stand.

Anyway, I do go on, don’t I?  We are going to talk about stuff and things and I trust that you will read further and enjoy. After having done so, please leave a comment to be included for the giveaway of one copy of Salt Is For Curing, signed by Sonya Vatomsky.  Do you have a favorite collection of poetry? A beloved fragrance? Maybe a strange ritual you’d like to share? Tell us all about it in the comments and a random winner will be divined by esoteric methods exactly one week from today.

Sonya Vatomsky

Sonya Vatomsky

 

Mlle Ghoul: The other night I had a dream that I peeled back the onion skin of my toes to uncover chocolate bonbons, which I plucked and ate with relish (I knew they’d grow back). What have you been dreaming about lately? What sort of stock do you put in dreams, if any? Are they signs, guide-posts for you? Or just brain-blips? Do they ever make their way into your poetry?

Sonya Vatomsky: Honestly, I kind of just have a lot of nightmares. I always have. They range from the basic psychopath-on-a-rampage kind to the crueler twists of, say, killing someone while blacked out and then having to explain that you’re a murderer to your parents who, against all mounting evidence, are maintaining your innocence during the trial because they know you, you would never. Because of this, I learned how to wake myself up from dreams when I was very young.When I’m really scared, I reach a sort of lucidity where if I force my eyes open really wide in the dream-state I’ll wake up. Besides the waking up trick, my lucid dreams are pretty useless. There’s a sort of misconception in lucid dreaming tutorials where people equate them with control over your dreams, which is just not accurate. Being self-aware doesn’t automatically make you God.

Speaking of dreams and sleep, you mentioned that you suffer from sleep paralysis. Can you talk a little bit about your experience with that?

Sure! It first happened in my late teens — scared the shit out of me, but I figured it was a freaky one-off nightmare. Then it occurred every few months for several years. I have an “all the toppings” version of sleep paralysis: aural hallucinations, visual hallucinations, and the cherry on top is an overpowering sense that there’s a demon in the room. I first read about sleep paralysis when I was 24 — 6 years ago — and since then it hasn’t happened much. Reading about it was very surreal. I was going through the Wikipedia pages of Japanese horror movies and reading the synopses and clicking links and ended up reading a medical paper on kanashibari. Having this frightening, seemingly-inexplicable, and deeply-personal thing medically explained (and experienced by other people!) was such a relief. In terms of the impact on my daily life, sleep paralysis was far more isolating than terrifying… or, rather, don’t we all have a very visceral fear that our mind has chosen an utterly unique kind of madness? That we’re somehow inherently blocked from ever being understood by another?

In Salt Is For Curing, the thread that ties so much of it together is food, but I get that it’s not really about food. You’ve said, and I am paraphrasing, that at the very root of these themes you write on– women, and bodies, and autonomy, and trauma, and power– it’s you exorcising your demons while “making people think they’re reading a witchy little book of folklore.” Which I think is fantastic and I loved that aspect of it. The role of food in folklore is such an interesting subject, though, and not one that I’ve thought on overmuch until now. I guess what I want to ask is how did you make these connections in relation to your own personal mythology and go about incorporating it into your poetry?

I think food and folklore both fall into my writing through the simple fact of me being Russian. Specifically a Russian immigrant, so my sense of culture has basically been distilled into those two things, partially because they’re such cultural building blocks but also because food and folklore are all you really have awareness of when you’re a child. I was six when I moved.

… but I am also obsessed with food, so we have to come back to that. Would you consider food/cooking a fascination for you, and has that been a constant fixation throughout your life or something that developed around the writing of these particular poems? What do you like to cook for yourself? What do you like to cook and serve to other people?

I’m impatient and busy so I usually cook things that can be done in 30 minutes, ideally with most of that time away from the stove. Baked fish with lemon, rosemary lamb, duck breast, tuna steak, that sort of thing. Also sandwiches. Always sandwiches. My current favorite is some kind of nice bread, gravlax, sliced hardboiled egg, tomato, mayonnaise, and hot sweet mustard. I’ll usually make the same type of dish for other people, because hosting means I’m a) stressed from accepting too much responsibility for the personal happiness of my dinner guest and b) drinking a lot, though I might upgrade my put-it-in-the-oven entree to cornish game hen. I can do piroshky and vareniki and pelmeni and borsch and all of that too but would need a third party to mind the guests because I’m very leave-me-the-fuck-alone in the kitchen.

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Sonya Vatomsky

Another thing you mentioned in an interview and I am taking it totally out of context here so that you can expand upon and play with it however you like, is: “I’m interested in myself quite a lot.” I cannot tell you how refreshing that was to read, and how excited, and well, RELIEVED I was to hear someone actually say that. You know, as a writer, I am extremely interested in myself, as well (I’m my favorite subject!)…but that’s not always something people are comfortable expressing, I don’t think. I was hoping that you could talk a little more about this.

My coolness and my writing ability have just never been things I questioned. Which doesn’t mean I assume everyone will adore me (why would it?) or anything; I’m just stressed out by starvation economies. Impostor syndrome is a thing I deal with, as are various insecurities about success, but I don’t conflate feelings about my movement through the world with my intrinsic sense of self, I guess? I think I’m super fucking interesting, and I get chills re-reading my own work, but that ego also frees me up to feel joy at the genius of others. There’s not a finite amount of coolness. I find books all the time that reduce me to Facebook-messaging incoherent “omg… you are disgustingly amazing”s to people and that’s a real pleasure.

Make America Goth Again

Make America Goth Again

Onto lighter things! One of the things we initially bonded over was our huge goth-y tee shirt collection–do you have any favorites right now?

MAKE AMERICA GOTH AGAIN, which I discovered through fellow goth Deirdre Coyle.

I don’t want to assume you are a fellow perfume enthusiast, but I sort of get the feeling that you might be. What sort of scents do you find yourself drawn to? Do you have a particular beloved fragrance?

Ha! I am definitely a perfume enthusiast. Except I find the alcohol in alcohol-based perfumes really overpowering so I mostly wear oils. My everyday stink is Sugar & Spite’s Brewster (buttercream frosting, candied violets, vanilla cake) with Common Brimstone’s Petite Mort (caraway, cardamom, leather, honey, rose) on top. I also really love BPAL’s Vixen (orange blossom, ginger, patchouli) but I’ve had it forever so it kind of just smells like the summer I was 21 at this point. My gotta-have-it oils are anything that mention campfires, dirt, or cardamom, and lately I’m really enjoying rose as well. Oh! Another always-favorite is Debaucherous Bath, though I purchase more lotions than perfumes from that shop. The Queen Bee (milk, honey, cardamom) is delightful.

I did read your post about perfumes the other day and am thinking of treating myself to Norne or De Profundis (though for those prices maybe I’ll just come over for a weekend and smell you a lot).

I think you and I have something else in common, too–that you don’t really love showering, because you don’t like getting wet. Me too, I hate it! I sort of have to trick myself into the shower, make a ritual of it with fluffy towels, fancy soaps and potions and unguents. This made me start thinking about our own individual, personal rituals. I was wondering if you had any that you might like to share? Whether with regard to getting your hair wet, or writing, or …whatever, really.

Showering is the worst. I exercise every morning and that does make me more inclined to shower, though I soaps and potions help as well. I like to have a creepy soap (gunsmoke, seaweed, rotting wood) and a sweet lotion. An off-putting handsoap is nice, too. Blackbird used to do a really strong, salty licorice one but since they discontinued it I’ve been using Nevermore Body Company’s Sacred Ground (chamomile, oak, black currant, dried leaves).

My other rituals are secret, for now.

You just traveled to Iceland! What did you love about it? Did you find any inspiration there? Anything that you might recommend to a fellow traveler on a whirlwind journey?

Iceland! The best thing we did was go to the Secret Lagoon which, first off, has a Facebook page so how secret is it really? The lagoon is an hour or so outside Reykjavik, and we did a night excursion where we got there around 9 or 10pm — it’s dark and freezing cold and next to the lagoon is this scary-looking cement shack structure and there’s a reddish light coming from somewhere that makes the entire scene look like the first result of when you go to a website of free desktop wallpapers and search for “creepy shit”. It was incredible! You get little floaties and float in the water, which is really warm, and there are these underwater speakers playing fucking Sigur Ros, and you can drink wine and then get a massage. Someone also brought a dog so I was petting this giant fluffer while drinking wine and being up to my waist in a hot lagoon.

Perfect. Then when you’re done soaking you get to have a little meal of cucumbers and tomatoes and black bread and schnapps and softboiled egg and the rotting piss shark thing which, I don’t know, definitely needs a lot of schnapps after it.

Photo credit: Sonya Vatomsky

Photo credit: Sonya Vatomsky

I am led to believe that you may have some great poetry recommendations. If one loved Salt Is For Curing, for example, what else might you suggest?

I HAVE SO MANY POETRY RECOMMENDATIONS. Recently I have read and loved:

Kate Litterer – Ghosty Boo
Janice Lee – Reconsolidation
Natalie Eilbert – Swan Feast
Segovia Amil – Ophelia Wears Black
Emily O’Neill – Celeris

Finally, closing on a more serious note– elsewhere, you referenced a J.G. Ballard quote:

“’I wanted to / rub the human face in its own vomit / and then force it to look in the mirror’—and that’s basically what I’m trying to do. Except with my vomit. In a nice way.” I know that our motivations and inspirations are constantly in flux, so I am wondering if this is still what you are trying to do? Or has this changed?

No, that still sounds about right.

Thanks again, Sonya, for entertaining my curiosity and indulging my nosy nature. And readers, remember to leave a comment below in order to be eligible for our giveaway of one signed copy of Salt Is For Curing.

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The Dark Mysteries of Professor Jack

Jack Shear, artist's rendering

Jack Shear, artist’s rendering (Artist: Tenebrous Kate)

Ha!  I used a Gothic novel generator for the title of this interview, it’s pretty cheesy, but I kind of love it anyway.  As opposed to another one I picked out: The Bitter Vengeance of Professor Jack…which is maybe potentially slanderous?

Or …is it?

Read further and determine for yourselves my dear innocents, and learn more of this mysterious gentleman and his dark obsessions.  His fascinations align closely with many of my own, and, I suspect yours; I invite you to partake in the insights and secrets that he has been gracious enough to divulge today, and I pray that we do not live to regret this beautiful, terrible knowledge.

Jack and I began our correspondence in the winter of 2010.  It could have been any time during that year, but for dramatic purposes we will say that it was in bleak midwinter, the landscape treacherous, hardened by a killing frost;  a moonless night, an unexpected, brittle rap at the frozen windowpane…

(Except in this case, it was an unexpected email from an intriguing stranger who wanted to chat about a mutual love of music! It was actually a pleasant thing—and a welcome diversion,  and the beginning of a lovely friendship.)

Jack actually teaches Gothic and Decadence literature–that part was not just mentioned for drama and intrigue–and is also a published author of several RPG related materials. I had so many questions for him, and I am certain that the answers are of keen interest to the folks who read my ramblings here; if you have a love for Gothic tropes, for horror fantasy games, for dark music, film, and literature, you are certain to enjoy the following transcript.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and Jack–thank you for indulging me. You are a gem, and I am pleased to know you!

Jack Shear

Mlle Ghoul: Your answer to what is best in life differs slightly from that of our favorite barbarian: “What is best in life? To drink poisonous liqueurs, hallucinate fabulously about dancing girls, and engage in triumphant saber duels with your enemies!” I’d love to know what you get up to in your spare time and how closely it mirrors the duels and dancing girls that I like to envision.
Prof. Jack: Credit where credit is due: that bit of “biography” was written for me by my longtime friend and frequent collaborator Tenebrous Kate. She knows me far too well; I think she really captured the main points of my personality and predilections there. To be honest, I used to get out a lot more in my younger years, but these days I prefer a quieter kind of decadence: a nice intoxicating beverage, a beautiful bit of prose or cinema to get lost in, and a night in with my charming companion is my current preference.

As for saber duels, it’s probably fair warning to anyone who makes an enemy of me to note that I always triumph in the end.

I am intensely curious (read: nosy as hell. I am very nosy) about young Jack! Can you pinpoint a time in your childhood wherein you developed a fascination for the Gothic novel or gothic tropes/conventions? Can you talk about how it led to your current career path and the other writings that you do?
I actually remember my first exposure to the Gothic: my aunt bought me a couple issues of the comic book The House of Mystery, and by some stroke of fortune those issues featured J. M. DeMatteis’s ongoing “I…Vampire” story. “I…Vampire had Gothic conventions written into the plot an characterization as flavor, and the covers of those issues were rich in the Gothic aesthetic; it was all candelabras and crumbling castles. I could not get enough of it.

As for how that early exposure to the Gothic shaped by current career path and the kind of creative work I do, I can tell you that when I find pleasure in an aesthetic I get absolutely fixated on it. I don’t just want to indulge in it, I want to overindulge in it! I moved on from those early Gothic comics to checking out Poe, Stoker, and Shelley from the library; from there I delved into the lesser known Gothics. I never burnt out this fascination I have for the genre. If anything, over the years it has only intensified.

When I started taking academia seriously, I knew I wanted to share my passion for the literature with young, impressionable minds who maybe hadn’t dove into those dark waters yet. And so here I am, teaching an introductory course on Gothic fiction, as well as similar classes on the literary impact of the Jack the Ripper murders, the recent (and archly Gothic) television series Penny Dreadful, and Decadent literature.

Gothic shelfie

Gothic shelfie

Can you speak to your favorite elements of a good gothic tale? And for those reading who have been hesitant to jump in to this particular genre, can you recommend a reading list of few decent “starter” gothic tales? (Perhaps a few advanced for those whom this is old hat?) Are there any so awful, so atrocious that you would caution against reading them? Feel free to include those as well!
My favorite elements of any Gothic tale are the moments of absurdity. Horror tales are a dime a dozen, but what sets the Gothic apart is its propensity to get really weird, to skirt the line between sublime terror and overwrought, and potentially laughable, excesses.

If someone were new to the Gothic, I’d recommend Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Everyone thinks the story will be familiar, but Shelley’s novel has depths that are often missing from our “pop-culture” version of the Frankenstein story. Following that, I’d point people to a few Poe short stories (“The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Black Cat,” especially) or Oscar Wilde’s peerless The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I’m always pushing people who are already familiar with the main Gothic texts to read Charles Brockden Brown’s novel Wieland. It is amazing and like nothing else written. All I’m going to say is this: the plot revolves around religious mania and ventriloquism. You want to read that, right? James Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is another Gothic novel that too many people sleep on.

As for Gothic texts I’d warn people away from, there is a reason that the more obscure Gothic novels remain obscure. For example, Valancourt Press does tremendous work bring forgotten Gothic novels back into print, but I generally wouldn’t recommend them except to other fanatics who share my tastes. There are good books in their catalog, but a lot of them are fairly derivative. [Editor’s note: Valancourt Press brings many more recent horror titles back into print as well, and is definitely worth checking out if you have a love of Gothic or Horror. I have an entire shelf dedicated to beautiful Valancourt editions.]

The Martyr’s Kiss from misterguignol on 8tracks Radio.

We first connected, I believe, through a mutual love of music over at 8tracks, wherein you note that you like music made by artists who “live in their own weird little worlds” and list preferred genres including “spectral folk, murderous americana, doom balladry, dustbowl country, fin de siecle cabaret…”. I’d love to pick your brain regarding your current favorites in this vein! I am also intensely curious as to your musical journey (as a listener and an appreciator) and how you came to listen to this type of music?
It’s funny, I think I went from not being interested in music to being utterly obsessive about it in my early teenage years. Part of it was that I discovered that there were alternatives to what I had been hearing on the radio. Finding bands like Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Cure, and Bauhaus was a revelation—a revelation that turned me into the kind of questing fool who went looking for obscure records made by maniacs and who spent far too much time in dank goth clubs, but it was a revelation none the less.

As for current favorites, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Batushka’s Litourgiya, a startling debut that mixes black metal with Eastern Orthodox spiritual music. My girlfriend gave me a copy of an Anna & Elizabeth album that is really nice Appalachian folk. The new Hexvessel is captivating. Aside from newer stuff, I’ve also been revisiting Aghast’s Hexerei Im Zwielicht Der Finsternis, a dark ambient record that is about as soothing as the sounds of a witches’ sabbath.

The Hallow, poster design by ArtMachine

The Hallow, poster design by ArtMachine

We often correspond back and forth with film recommendations and such. Is there anything you’ve watched recently that you would suggest to like-minded folks? And what was it about them that appealed to you?
I love horror films, but I’m also extraordinarily hard to please when it comes to movies. According to a lot of people I quite like, It Follows is a modern classic of the form, but I have to admit that I thought it was amazingly mediocre and frequently silly. It feels like I have to watch a pile of movies before I finally strike on something that feels worthwhile. The last movie I really enjoyed without much reservation was The Hallow. I liked the way that The Hallow reworked the themes and imagery we usually associate with “folk horror.” It felt like a fresh take on that niche. The performances were strong, and I admired the creature design.

"Wraith", Jack Shear

“Wraith”, Jack Shear

Your Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque blog is a wonderful resource for fans of horror fantasy gaming and has been praised by bloggers as an “output of depraved creativity” and for your valuable insight. Can you talk to the circumstances under which the blog was originally created and it’s purpose/intended direction? What are some of your favorite topics to blog about over there?
I think most blogs are conceived out of boredom, and mine was no different. I had started reading a few gaming blogs and thought that it might be a nice gesture to put my Gothic-inflected game material out there in case anyone could find a use for it in their own games. It grew from there, but I can’t say it has ever had an intended purpose or direction.

If I had to nail down a motive, it would probably be that I wanted to show people that even an idiot like me could put their stuff out there with a minimum of fuss, that doing-it-yourself was actually viable, but mostly I just post things that interest me.

It’s odd; a lot of people who blog do so because they crave community: they want to be part of a conversation, they want to grow an audience and have fans, they want to find like-minded folks, they want to network, etc. Blogging can be a great venue for that, but I’m so antisocial that it’s never really factored into what I do. I put my stuff out there and if people like it—great!—but if not I’m just going to keep doing what pleases me. It is nice, though, when people go out of their way to tell me that they liked something I wrote.

"Midnight in Krevborna", Jack Shear

“Midnight in Krevborna”, Jack Shear

You have published a number of original titles under the umbrella of Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque Publications. Your first offering, I believe, was Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque itself, “a Gothic Fantasy Supplement for old-school fantasy role-playing games”, and which has expanded to include additional world building manuals, as well. I don’t want to presume that you love your Gothic baby best – what can you tell us about your other titles? Which is your personal favorite to play (or DM is your bag, I guess)? Have you had great successes with these offerings? Which seems to be other folks’ preferred fantasy setting?
My favorite is always the thing I’m playing or running right now—which, in this case, is Krevborna, a Bloodborne-inspired Gothic setting I wrote to get a sandbox game going using 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. I am absurdly proud that I did all the art in the pdf myself. I also really like the setting in Jonathan Harper’s Blades in the Dark game; I had a blast exploring the setting in a campaign ran by Andrew Shields and I’m really looking forward for that game to pick up where we left off.

As for other settings, I’ve done things inspired by post-apocalypse trash culture like Planet Motherfucker and my Gothic-in-Spaaaaaaaaaaaaace setting Colonial Ethersea. There’s a lot of unpublished setting work kicking around as well; someday I should do something with the Edward Gorey-esque Slithdale Hollow. Overall, I’ve had far more success with my publications than I would have ever suspected—I thought I would only sell a few copies to close friends, but I sell a small pile of them every month. I have a strange aversion to profiting off my hobby, though; the money I make on my game books gets donated to worthy causes. This is the saddest mark of my success: I’ve actually caught people ripping off my material and claiming it as their own. That’s when you know you’ve arrived.

I think the vast majority of gamers prefer a more standard fantasy approach when it comes to settings for their games. There’s a reason why Wizards of the Coast has really been pushing the Forgotten Realms (a very “vanilla,” semi-Tolkien-esque fantasy setting) as the backdrop for the new edition of D&D: it’s got the recognizable fantasy tropes and is appealingly neutral in tone and flavor. Frankly, it’s an easy setting to understand and fit fantasy ideas into. In contrast, the DIY D&D scene seems to go through cycles. “Gonzo” settings were all the rage for a while, but right now “Weird” crapsack settings (settings where everyone is miserable and everything is grimdark and soggy) seem to be on trend—which is funny because if everything is “weird,” nothing is actually weird. Also, I think those settings are more talked about than played when it gets down to it.

You are also a contributing editor over at Heretical Sexts, a micro-publisher of niche, print material focused on the dark and the bizarre. I hear tell that there is a fantastic Gothic ‘zine currently in the works, which, I imagine, you must have a heavy hand in. What can you tell is about it, what can we expect?
I’m not sure if I have an exact job title at Heretical Sexts, but I think we’ve joked around that my job is “Enabler” or something along those lines. Heretical Sexts is really Tenebrous Kate’s baby, but I’ve always made myself available to workshop ideas, give editorial assistance, and provide writing for some of the collaborative Heretical Sexts ‘zines. It has been wonderful watching Kate’s project grow; I adore seeing my friends develop their artistry and put their lovable weirdness out there into the world. I suppose that is what makes me an enabler.

I believe that the forthcoming Gothic ‘zine, Morbid Fantasies, is the first Heretical Sexts publication that has been wholly written by someone other than Kate. I’m beyond flattered that she offered to put out a lovingly-crafted book of my thoughts on Gothic literature.

Morbid Fantasies is a response to a problem I have with the way that Gothic literature is usually presented. At its inception, the Gothic was a popular genre—it was fiction meant to be read and enjoyed by anyone with an inclination to dark or mysterious content. But somewhere along the way the Gothic became a genre sequestered by scholarly study—talk about Gothic literature was relegated to obscure academic journals instead of it being a literary form for devoted readers. Morbid Fantasies aims to change that. It’s a book that wants to help you learn to love Gothic literature. It gives a brief history of this amazing aesthetic mode, suggestions for what books you should read and what you should be looking for as you read them, and an exploration of the conventions, tropes, and imagery most often found in the literature. It’s a reader’s guide to the Gothic, and I can promise you that it will help you on your way if you are totally new to the Gothic or deepen your love of dark, passionate fiction if you’re already exploring Gothic texts.

Are there any other upcoming projects you can share with us?
Well, I do have a bit of eldritch fun in the Occult Activity Book [Editor’s Note: This is sold out for the time being] that you and Becky Munich just put out! Other than that, I’ve been writing a thing (I’m not sure if it is a book or what yet) about horror and philosophy—something inspired by E. M. Cioran, the Graveyard Poets, and doom metal, mostly. It’s the kind of thing I might finish and then never show anyone.

Miss Vanessa Ives, as illustrated by Caitlin McCarthy

Miss Vanessa Ives, as illustrated by Caitlin McCarthy

Finally–Eva Green: Discuss.
We all need a muse, don’t we? Joking aside, Vanessa Ives is easily my favorite character on television at the moment, and I genuinely feel indebted to Eva Green for making that character possible! Season Three of Penny Dreadful can’t arrive soon enough for me.

THE OCCULT ACTIVITY BOOK

Cover

Friends and fiends, foul and fair–it is finally here!

Our wee devil baby has arrived! Head on over to Munich Art Studio to nab your copy of THE OCCULT ACTIVITY BOOK.

The activity book alone is $6 and for $10 you will receive a deluxe package including the activity book, two 5X7 prints by artist Becky Munich and one sticker created by EC Steiner.
(Shipping is included for domestic orders. International friends, please reach out to us directly, and we’ll figure out shipping cost to your part of the world.)

Speaking of artists – we could not have done this without our fantastic coven of evil genius creators! Many thanks to (in no particular order of magnificence) Carisa Swenson, Dana Glover, EC Steiner, Heather Drain, Jack Shear, Tenebrous Kate and Laurel Barickman. You guys are all amazing – thank you so much!

Deluxe

Making things weird: an interview with Tenebrous Kate

Tenebrous Kate

Photo credit: Sylvie The Camera

Today I am going to write at length about one of my favorite humans on the planet.
But first, some backstory:

2009-ish, I guess that’s 6 years ago now – that was a strange, awful year for me. It had actually been a strange and awful number of years. I was floundering and feeling like a desperate mess. I had moved to New Jersey from Florida five years previously and things were not working out at all, which was some kind of bullshit, I can assure you. I had left everything I’d known behind for this opportunity and it was turning out to be the worst kind of hell. It was to get worse, and then get better, but I did not know that then.

Everyone’s got their coping mechanisms. For some it’s a kitten video binge on youtube, for others, it’s a tall glass of something cold and intoxicatingly potent; for me, at that time, it was obsessively seeking out horrors beyond my comprehension in the form of obscure cinema. I was fascinated with bizarre horror films at that time – well, I had been for as long as I could remember, but now it was so much easier to seek out and find these strange cinematic gems, and to connect with the like-minded souls who enjoyed them.

It was a Friday night, probably February. I view my time in New Jersey through the lens of a perpetual February -dull grey skies, relentless cold, dirty sidewalk slush that appears as if its been piled by the curb since the dawn of man and will never fully melt, even sometime in the future when the stars have all died. At the end times, there would still be a pile of pissed-on slush next to a dumpster, with an old boot next to it, somewhere in New Jersey. February in that place was the worst month to be a lonely person.

The hour had struck midnight and I was wide awake, and, of course- alone. Due to the unfortunate circumstances I had gotten myself into, all of my weekends were spent in my own company, which I don’t mind telling you, was pretty bleak. I was searching for reviews on a certain film and I unwittingly stumbled across the blog of one Tenebrous Kate, Love Train For The Tenebrous Empire. “Lurid. Weird. Fantastique.” promised the header, and after several feverish hours of devouring every entry and every lurid, weird, fantastic review I concluded that it was indeed all that and more.Occult nonsense and gothic horror? Women in prison? Necrophilia and Nunsploitation? Check, check and check. Cheeky kink? You betcha. Did she bring the weirdness, as promised? Fuck yeah, she did.

Brimming with wry humor, marvelously keen insight, and more knowledgeable on all my favorite subjects than perhaps any mortal has any right to be (because she’s actually a wizard, I suspect), Kate, I was to find, was more than just a damn good writer – she’s a talented artist as well, across several mediums. For years she’s consistently wowed me with her wicked Halloween costume prowess, she’s an illustrator and painter, as well as, a sometimes public speaker – which I believe is an art form into itself – and a wrangler of artists and writers for her mico-publishing imprint, Heretical Sexts. I would learn these things as they unfolded over the next several years, but at that specific point in time, I knew I had discovered a remarkable human woman and my life would never be the same.

I’m certain it took me at least a year to work up the nerve to even leave a comment on her blog, and yet somehow here we are, years later and you are about to read an interview that she graciously agreed to do with me. How did the stars align to even make this happen? I still don’t rightly know, but I am honored and privileged to have gotten to know Kate and I hope you will enjoy reading further and learning more about her background and her weird and fantastical projects as well.

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S. Elizabeth :Lurid. Weird. Fantastique. That’s been tagline on your blog header for as long as I’ve been stalking you. (I sort of think of it as a mantra or an incantation now, ha!) Tell us about what those themes/concepts mean to you and how they translate to the various projects you summon forth to share with the world.

T’Kate:You know, I’ve always struggled with defining the “stuff” I enjoy, because I feel like genre labels tend to restrict discovery of interesting things instead of assisting after a certain point. I chose “Lurid, Weird, Fantastique” because my favorite things combine a bit of sexiness, plenty of strangeness, and an element of imagination, whether it’s psychedelia, fantasy, or decadence. That tagline wound up being a good match because, though I initially began writing strictly about movies, it also lets me play with art, books, and music without feeling like I’m veering off topic!

I’d love to know Tenebrous Kate’s origin story! I imagine a little 5 year old T’Kate toddling around in enormously oversized Black Sabbath tees alternately peeping at dirty magazines and staying up late to watch lesbian nazi exploitation flicks. How far off am I? When did your strange fascinations begin to take hold? And how did you come to channel them into your art and writing?

I was an extremely sensitive child (like, creepy, Poe protagonist levels of nervousness and sensitivity to stimulus), plus I was the first kid in my “generation” of the family. What this meant is that I was sheltered from a lot of media, plus I socialized exclusively with adults for the first several years of my life. My parents are both former English teachers, so I read a lot–early exposure to Tolkien and those Time Life Enchanted World books had a huge impact on me. There was definitely forbidden media, and it’s hilariously tame in retrospect: I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV after my mother decided that Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” video went far beyond the limits of good taste. It took me to age twelve to get up the nerve to sneak downstairs after everyone had gone to bed and taste a few delicious minutes of “Headbangers Ball.” I didn’t start seeking out more extreme movies until my love of heavy metal and goth pointed me in that direction in my teens. What started as a way to test my adolescent nerves turned into a real passion after I recognized that there was more to some of these films than one might guess from the “gore checklist” mode of appreciation that was the norm in the 90s. Involvement in AOL chatrooms connected me with Scott Gabbey, who was developing what would become Ultra Violent Magazine, and that solidified my involvement in the world of “writing my thoughts about weird stuff.”

Tenebrous Kate

Photo credit: Sylvie The Camera

I think I found your blog through – of all things – a search for reviews on the film Hostel II (and was surprised to see someone give it a decent review!) – but it was your referencing and reviewing of gloomy, decadent occult artists, films, and music that really drew me in. I would love to talk about your interests in this vein – whether they are spiritual, literary-minded, aesthetic or whatever – and what are some of your beloved favorites that you’ve either reviewed for Love Train or that you’d recommend for a like-minded weirdo?

Oh boy–this is difficult for me! My favorites shift in focus over time, and I love different books, movies, art, and music for different reasons. I just seek out art (we’ll lump all creative output into this word for now) that resonates with me, and I feel like this shared creative vibration links all of the disparate things I enjoy. A great example of movies that really hit me where I live would be Tinto Brass’ historical epics–I think Salon Kitty and Caligula are absolutely captivating because there’s this combination of lush beauty, historical fiction, theatrical violence, melancholy, and taboo that just makes my brain and my eyes leap around, not knowing where to land. That’s the experience I’m looking for in art. Maybe the most perfect movie that captures this mindset, though, is Ken Russell’s “The Devils.” It’s so perfect that I’ve never written about because it’s just so vast in its imagery and implications, and it’s better if one just experiences it without vivisecting and destroying through over-analysis.

Die Mensur, debuting at the Saint Vitus Halloween Flea Market on Sunday 10/25

Delving into your various endeavors -your latest project, Die Mensur, “an exploration of the secretive world of German fencing fraternities” and a collaborative effort with with Gilles de Rais of the band Porta Nigra – Secret German fencing fraternities! Who knew such a thing even existed? Please tell us about how you stumbled upon this secret society of swordsmen and how you brought this amazing thing into being. How did it end up as the beautifully bound booklet that it is today instead of oh, say, working it into a blog post…or a painting, or even including in story arc for Super Coven?

I first became aware of Mensur (which is a form of non-sport/non-honor-duel fencing that has been practiced by student fraternities in Central Europe since the mid-1800s) from my long-time partner, whose family is of German descent. The powerful image of two men standing perfectly still while waving a blade towards one another’s faces had this combination of posture discipline, severity, and ritual that fascinated me. There are photographs of the aftermath of the Mensur that show these handsome young men with completely bloody faces and it’s really unforgettable. As a person who’s into body modification, I was intrigued by the dueling scars that were worn as a badge of honor. There’s not a lot of information in English on the Mensur since it’s an entirely oral tradition passed down through the fraternities, but it’s popped up on my radar over time (the mondo movie Ecco features what I’ve since learned is an accurate re-enactment of the Mensur, for example).

I read a review of the German decadent metal band Porta Nigra’s 2015 record Kaiserschnitt that included a photo of the band wearing Mensur protective gear and that’s what made me stop and listen to their music. Kaiserschnitt is an incredible record, and Gilles de Rais, the lyricist, is clearly a person who knows a lot about history and literature. After I wrote about the record on my blog, I wound up connecting with Gilles, who put me in touch with his contacts at a fencing fraternity in Cologne. I was honestly shocked that the fraternity brothers were willing to speak to me! Talk about being an outsider–I’m an American woman artist, and these are pretty conservative young men who are part of what’s essentially a male-only secret society

As to why I chose to make a book on the topic, it’s very important to me that, when I speak to people who clearly take their beliefs and passions seriously, I take those things equally seriously even if they’re different from my personal world view. Mensur is just such an interesting topic on its face that I felt anything other than a direct, documentary approach would have been doing it (and the people who were generous and candid enough to speak to me) a disservice.

My Dream Date With a Villain, Forever Doomed, and Witch Women, available from Heretical Sexts.

Die Mensur is just one of several projects published by Heretical Sexts, the micro-niche publisher focusing on the dark and the bizarre that you founded in 2014. Billed as “Weird Words on Dead Trees” and giving a platform to “those outside the status quo”, you’ve published ‘zines chronicling fictional dream dates with villains (two volumes to date!), explorations of femininity and the occult, as well as your own personal collections of essay and arts in Forever Doomed. Why do you think there is a need right now for these kind of publications? Why is it important to give these discerning creeps a voice, and who is it that you imagine your audience to be? And if you can share, what are some topics or themes that you hope to tackle going forward?

Honestly? It started with a desire to create more valuable work while controlling the context of some of the topics I wanted to discuss. I don’t really like genre labels and I’m not much of a joiner, so the “orthodoxies” of certain internet conversations bum me out tremendously. By creating printed pieces, it means a couple of things: 1) readers are demonstrating a real desire to read what’s on the page, which means their minds are probably more open already and 2) the act of reading on paper (or eReader–I fully cop to reading on a Kindle sometimes) creates the kind of immersion you just don’t get from internet reading. I want to offer an experience where people aren’t getting upset by the comments or distracted by social media or whatever. Like, just sit and think about what you’re reading and looking at in an open-minded way.

I am also lucky enough to know a lot of incredibly talented, intelligent people, and I feel that combining their voices and viewpoints can elevate everyone involved. Collaborative work just feeds my soul in an amazing way, and those that have agreed to work with me really commit to the concept and deliver remarkable art and writing that, in turn, inspires me. I think it’s important to publish humorous work (like the My Dream Date with a Villain zines) alongside more serious pieces (like Die Mensur or certain pieces in Witch Women), because life is complicated and our human brains are messy and contain multitudes. I’ve got a bunch of stuff in the pipeline right now! Jack Shear, who has had a hand in every single piece I’ve done with Heretical Sexts and who has been an amazing sounding-board for ideas, is developing a piece on Gothic fiction, and I’ve been pitched some great ideas on a very grown-up activity book that I’m pretty stoked to help bring to life.

Super Coven. All documented, all true.

Getting back to Super Coven, your web comic about friends and bandmates Andy, Jess and Red and the “monsters, heavy music, and all manner of occult nonsense”, that makes up their day to day goings-on – I know you’ve had to step back with the updates due to general busyness and other projects, but can you talk a little bit about where we left off? Without giving away any spoilers, we’ve encountered everything from bigfoots to nazi vampires to a burlesque dancer in a relationship with her motorcycle – what’s next for our intrepid stoner friends? And I have to ask -these characters seem so relatable, I feel like I could know these guys, maybe I AM these guys… – I have had so many of these weird, late-night, bar closing conversations about crazy monster theories and conspiracies and god knows what else. How much of this is pure imagination and how much can you attribute to actual real-life stuff? (Please tell me this motorcycle loving Lorna is based upon a real person!)

Oh sure! I still love Super Coven, and it’s been a really important project for me because it got me into the habit of producing (and sharing) my creative work on a regular schedule. I have the whole storyline laid out for this arc (which Jack Shear co-authored with me), plus there’s another story I’ve got a half-baked idea for that involves the character of “Draculigula” because most of my best Super Coven ideas are basically just portmanteaus.

As to how the comic developed, I really loved Scooby Doo and Dark Shadows as a kid, so I nicked the “pals solving mysteries” concept from the former and the “everything AND the kitchen sink” approach from the latter and blended it with my own worldview. I wanted a concept that would support all of the things I’m interested in (occult matters, history, folklore, gothic/decadent literature, various kinds of music, witty banter…) in a universe where those things could conceivably be blended. I’d like to think there’s an audience that likes monster fights and Huysmans references, anyway.

Writing and illustrating a long-form, serialized piece has been challenging, and I realize in hindsight that “conversations in a bar” do not make for scintillating visuals, but I’ve amped up some of the action stuff in this most current story (which I do intend to complete!). I’d like to think that occasional werewolf fights and motorcycle love-making offer enough to keep people reading.

This makes me wince as I type it, but I’ve been going to weird shows, bars, and clubs in New York for well over two decades now, so yes–there’s a good deal of “slice of life” stuff in Super Coven. The whole “real vampyre” thing is definitely drawn from my personal interactions. Sadly, I’ve never encountered an objectum sexual as fashionable and enchanting as Lorna.

You have got so many irons in the fire – if you’re not webcomicing, you’re working on a new book for Heretical Sexts, or you’re blogging a fantastic review on an obscure giallo film teeming with blood and bare breasts, or you are writing for various other publications – Ultra Violent Magazine, Occult Rock MagazineSlutist, and most recently Dirge Magazine, OR you are making live speaking appearances at pop culture variety shows in NYC. Damn, lady! What do you do in your downtime? Do you have any downtime? What are some current loves and favorite things that you’re enjoying?

That IS what I do in my down-time! I’ve just cut out most of the aspects of what I was doing that I didn’t really enjoy. There was a time in about 2010 or so where I felt compelled to write about EVERY movie I watched or to “give a chance” to a lot of things I really knew I wasn’t going to dig. Now I write only about the things that inspire me and have given myself permission to stop reading or watching at the point where I’m no longer engaged with a thing. I’m also kinder to myself when I need to shift my focus from project to project, or if I need a break. I only work with people I like on projects that excite me–I’m just fortunate enough to know a lot of great people with exciting concepts. In fact, I have a wishlist of people I’d love to work with, so we’ll see!

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Great Moments In Historical Sluttery: Anita Berber, The Scandal of Weimar Berlin

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Commissioned art for Gilles de Rais of Porta Nigra

 

I know I’ve asked this with regard to various projects above, but on the whole – what is next for Tenebrous Kate? What is left to conquer? I am hoping it is some sort of crazy-kinky memoir, but that’s just me. Any thoughts?

I’m always cooking up something! I really love working on the Historical Sluttery series that I’ve been doing for Slutist so I plan on continuing that, plus Dirge has been the kind of place that lets me write lengthy pieces where I get to showcase GIFs from silent films so I dig working with them. In addition to the couple of projects I mentioned above for Heretical Sexts, I’m writing some really lurid historical fiction that I plan to illustrate and bind in way that mimics early 20th Century pornography. I just like ambitious things that shouldn’t have an audience, whether I’m seeking them out or making them myself!

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Erotic Rites of the Nazgûl in Forever Doomed

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Currywurst with Kroenen in My Dream Date With A Villain (vol.1)


Find Tenebrous Kate:

Love Train For The Tenebrous Empire
Heretical Sexts Publishing
Super Coven