Loren Niemi Author Page and Events

We have just set up a new author page on our Moonfire site for Loren Niemi, author of What Haunts Us. There you can find his upcoming appearances and read reviews of the book, which have been coming in and are quite good.

Two events to highlight: This Sunday, April 7th, Loren will be appearing at a book release event for What Haunts Us at Eat My Words Bookstore from 2:00-4:00 pm. Stop by for some great storytelling and to pick up a signed copy of the book. Eat My Words Bookstore is located at 214 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis MN.

Next Saturday, April 13th, Loren will be appearing at the Black Forest Inn Festaal Auditorium along with friends and special guests from 7:00-8:30. This will be a great evening of music and spoken word performances. The Black Forest Inn is located at 1 East 26th Street, Minneapolis MN.

Check out the new page, and we hope to see you at these events!

Haunt the Black Forest!

Join Loren Niemi and Moonfire Publishing at the Black Forest Inn Festaal Room on April 13th, 2019 from 7:00–8:30 pm. This event will celebrate the release of Loren’s new story collection What Haunts Us. The Black Forest Inn is located at 1 East 26th Street, Minneapolis MN, 55404.

  • Featuring Performances by Loren Niemi, Jim Stowell, Mike Finley, and Rebecca Ramsden.

  • Music by Carl Franzen and friends.

  • Special Guest Jack Zipes will offer a few words about ghost stories.
Stop by the Black Forest Inn Festaal Room on April 13th for a haunting and enchanting evening of great performances! The Facebook link for this event can be found here.

What Haunts Us Book Release Event April 7th in Northeast Minneapolis

Join Loren Niemi and Moonfire Publishing at Eat My Words Bookstore on April 7th, 2019 from 2:00-4:00 PM. Eat My Words Bookstore is located at 214 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis MN, 55413.

This will be a book release event for Loren’s first published story collection titled What Haunts Us. This evocative compendium of stories includes tales he has performed on stages for many years, along with new explorations of paranormal mysteries.

Come on down for some top-notch storytelling, and check out the new book. This promises to be an exciting and intriguing afternoon! The Facebook link for this event can be found here.

Moonfire Wants You!

We publish words of wyrd and fascination; the humorous, the Marvelous.

Magical realism. Paranormal thrillers. Speculative fiction realized through both text and image.

Food for the moon to feed the heart and mind, and new expressions of all that is dark and enchanting.

Moonfire Publishing seeks out the strange, the unusual, the macabre, and the unconventional, and our titles reflect that vision.

We know that you are both strange and unusual – and we want you to submit your words and art today! Moonfire Publishing currently has an open submissions period. We have a new book in the works which we’ll be announcing soon. Some other projects under consideration right now including novels, a novella (yes, we’re looking at these!) and a gothic-flavored series of art trading cards.

But there’s room on our plates for more! If you have a manuscript or sample chapters, feel free to send a Word doc (or PDF, if you prefer) to submissions@moonfire.com, along with your contact information. View our Submissions page for more information.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Iceland’s Dracula

draculaHere’s an odd piece of literary trivia. People in Iceland have been reading an entirely different version of Bram Stoker’s famous vampire novel Dracula than anyone else in the world, and we all were none the wiser. The Icelandic translation of Dracula is titled Powers of Darkness, and while the book starts out the same way, it is really not a translation at all. It’s more like Dracula fan-fiction that tells a similar tale.

In 1900, Icelander Valdimar Ásmundsson translated and published Makt Myrkranna in his newspaper. It purported to be a translation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the horror story of a young lawyer who finds himself imprisoned by Count Dracula, and the exploits of his friends who help defeat the vampire. But in 1986, Dracula scholar Hans Corneel de Roos realized the Icelandic text was wholly different from the one originally published in English. For 86 years, any Icelandic readers of Dracula were unknowingly reading a different book than everyone else in the world.

The biggest difference between the Icelandic text and the original is that the former takes place almost entirely in Dracula’s castle, whereas the latter moves between England and Transylvania. It takes about three-quarters of Powers of Darkness for the protagonist—”Thomas Harker” instead of the “Jonathan Harker” of the original—to finally uncover the count’s secrets. (In the original, this section comprises just a quarter of the book.)

There are also significant differences between the later sections of the two books. In the original, after we leave Harker in the castle, the narrative continues in an epistolary style, with the plot unfolding across letters and newspaper clippings. In Powers of Darkness, the point of view suddenly flips from Harker’s diary to an omniscient narrator:

“While Thomas Harker hovered between hope and horror in the castle of Count Dracula, his beloved fiancée, Wilma, spent her time at the bathing resort at Whitby, on the east coast of England.”

In essence, Powers of Darkness is an expanded, more grotesque version of Harker’s adventure in the castle, followed by 50 pages of summary describing what happened after he left. It’s like a detailed Cliffs Notes. There is also an over-the-top ritual sacrifice of three nubile women.

So it sounds to me like the author set out to translate Stoker’s work, but found the novel’s unique storytelling style that involves newspaper clippings, diary entries, and so forth too difficult to work with. Then, after summarizing the end of the book, he decided to pad it out by including more action involving Harker in Dracula’s castle. It wasn’t until an English translation of Powers of Darkness became available that the differences were clear for readers around the world to see.

Del Toro’s Monsters

Del-ToroLast week Guillermo del Toro’s latest film The Shape of Water opened in theaters across the country to excellent reviews. It is the latest installment in del Toro’s long history of re-examining what it means to be a monster, even in a world where what we consider paranormal forces and circumstances are commonplace and all around us. Birth. Movies. Death has an article up that examines del Toro’s fascination with and love of monsters throughout his film career, and his propensity for treating them as heroes.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army aligns Hellboy with Frankenstein’s creature, a misunderstood hero regarded as a “freak” even by the people he protects. Liz’s recognition of Hellboy as a man and her love for Hellboy quite literally saves his life. And Mimic is the redemptive version of Frankenstein: entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) plays god, creating a new kind of creature to save humanity without considering the consequences. It’s not until she’s willing to risk her own life to save a little boy from these giant insects that humankind is redeemed.

In the director’s cut of Mimic, the film opens with the gruesome death of a priest backgrounded by a giant neon cross that reads, “Jesus Saves.” But it’s Susan who becomes a Christ figure: to distract a blood-loving man-size insect in order to save the life of a little boy, she gives herself stigmata with a rosary. Monsters are often saviors in del Toro’s universe as well. In Blade II, Blade saves the human race from vampires trying to create an ascendant race: the Reapers. Blade is crucified, spikes driven through his legs and hands. He then indulges his darkest impulse — his thirst — and drinking blood gives him the strength to be reborn, to fight more vampires, and to save the world. Hellboy opens on an image of Christ on the cross at the scene of Hellboy’s birth. Hellboy carries his adoptive father Professor Broom’s rosary, and at the film’s climax, his handler Agent Myers uses the rosary to remind him who he is: even though he’s destined to usher in the apocalypse, Hellboy can resist his fate, and he chooses to do the right thing by not ending the world.

In Guillermo del Toro’s universe, the real monsters are almost exclusively human: the fascists of Pan’s Labyrinth, Thomas’s and Lucille’s abusive parents in Crimson Peak, Hellboy’s Nazis, Blade II’s Nazi-esque vampires. They are villains obsessed with perfection, order. Cruelty and control and materialism define them. But even the most villainous monsters in del Toro’s films can be sympathetic. We may not love them, but we understand them — even Pan Labyrinth’s sadistic, legacy-obsessed captain Vidal or The Devil’s Backbone’s greed-driven Jacinto, once “the loneliest boy in the orphanage.”

Crimson Peak’s Lucille (Jessica Chastain) is like Jane Eyre’s Bertha Rochester, given her own narrative beyond “the madwoman in the attic.” In voiceover Lucille explains: “Love makes monsters of us all.” But even Lucille isn’t the real monster here — it’s Thomas’s and Lucille’s parents who kept them locked in the attic and beat them. In character backstories written for Lucille and Thomas Sharpe, del Toro describes their mother as an “object of abuse,” and their father as “a shadow, a noise, an omen.” Perhaps the only truly evil entity in del Toro’s body of work is the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth, a child-consuming creature who represents the church and, according to del Toro, “all institutional evil feeding on the helpless.”

We here at Moonfire are big fans of del Toro’s work, and wish him a long career with many more successes ahead of him. His films never fail to captivate, and his vision is unique, whether he is shooting a Hollywood action movie or a smaller, more personal artistic film.

A Darker Pinocchio

pinocchio-poster-jpgDisney’s Pinocchio is a masterpiece of children’s animation that is famous the world over. But, no surprise, the original story is darker and more nuanced than the Disney version. That stands to reason – after all, the whole idea of a puppet wanting to be a “real boy” and coming to life is at it’s base pretty creepy. Disney is also known for giving Grimm’s fairy tales the same treatment, to the point that the happy, sanitized versions are far better known than the originals.

But now several projects are underway that hope to bring a darker, more authentic version of the Pinocchio story to the screen. The filmmakers hope to capitalize on a similar approach to that taken by Tim Burton in his latest rendition of Alice in Wonderland, which turned out to be a huge hit.

Jereremy Thomas, the Oscar-winning British producer, is making a screen version with Matteo Garrone, the Italian director of acclaimed mob drama Gomorrah, while Robert Downey Jr is developing a separate project with American Beauty producer Dan Jinks. Guillermo del Toro, the Pan’s Labyrinth director, has also long been planning his own ambitious stop-motion production, re-imagining Pinocchio as an anti-fascist story. Although he announced last week that he has so far been unable to finance it, he has been collaborating with the Jim Henson Company, and is still hoping to make it happen. Chris Weitz, who wrote Disney’s Cinderella remake, is reportedly working on another project.

The National Theatre production, which opens on 1 December, is being staged in partnership with Disney Theatrical Productions and director John Tiffany, whose staging of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child received a record number of Olivier awards. It promises to bring Pinocchio to life “as never before”, and has made new arrangements of the much-loved songs from Disney’s original 1940 animated film, including I’ve Got No Strings.

The Adventures of Pinocchio was written by Carlo Lorenzini, under the pseudonym Carlo Collodi. Serialised in a children’s magazine in 1881, it was published as a book in 1883. The genius of Disney’s animation is a hard act to follow, but there have been many attempts to adapt the story for the screen, most recently, Roberto Benigni’s 2002 Pinocchio, which had mixed reviews.

In Jinks’s Pinocchio, Downey Jr will star as the father, Geppetto. Asked why Pinocchio is now inspiring so many productions, Jinks said: “The world changed when Tim Burton directed Alice in Wonderland seven years ago. It became one of the top-grossing pictures in history [making more than $1bn] and so everybody looked at giant titles that were in the public domain that could possibly be exploited. That’s literally what I did. I had been working with [writer/producer] Bryan Fuller … I pitched him five titles in the public domain and one was Pinocchio. If I’m doing that, other people are. Now some of these things are coming closer to fruition.”

Burton is a master of the macabre whose take on Lewis Carroll’s classic story reached an audience beyond children. Producers now believe that Pinocchio has similar potential.

I have no idea if any of these productions will be as successful as the Burton film, but I wish the producers luck. It’s about time that versions of these stories were widely released that retain the original tone and context, as opposed to sanitized animated versions made “safe” for small children. The original texts are not necessarily the fun, happy stories that they have generally been adapted into, and retaining and if necessary restoring the original content is important. Otherwise, much of it could be lost.

Where Modern Vampires Came From

Vampire myths have appeared in various forms all over the world from time immemorial. The discovery of “vampire burials” in eastern Europe confirm that the myth is quite old in that part of the world as well. However, our modern image of the vampire has little to do with the original folklore. The vampire stories that most of us know, involving aristocratic, sophisticated immortals who attract at the same time that they repel only date back to the 19th century. The first vampire of the modern type was probably John Polidari’s Lord Ruthven who appears in his novel The Vampyre.

There is evidently little appeal or attraction felt for these early revenant figures. Unlike the English aristocratic vampire, modelled on Lord Byron, these early folkloric vampires are peasants and tend to appear en mass like modern-day zombies. Agnes Murgoci explored this folk belief further. She argued in 1926 that the journey from death to the afterlife is perilous – in Romanian belief it took 40 days for the soul of the deceased to enter paradise. In some cases, it was thought that it lingered for years, and during this time there are a myriad of ways that deceased family members can succumb to vampirism.

It was thought that dying unmarried, unforgiven by one’s parents, through suicide or being murdered could all lead to a person returning as a vampire. Events after death could also have the same effect – beware breezes blowing across corpses before burial, dogs or cats walking over coffins, or leaving a mirror (a soul trap) not turned to the wall at this precarious time. It was a treatise written in 1746 by the French monk Antoine Augustin Calmet that famously gave British writers access to a number of encounters with vampires. Calmet took inspiration from Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, a botanising man of science, who had earlier claimed to have come face to face with a plague of bloodsucking vampires in Mykonos in 1702. His account was still being read in 1741.

Three decades after Tournefort’s encounter, the London Journal of 1732 reported some enquiries into “vampyres” at Madreyga in Hungary (a story later referred to by John Polidori). Greece and Hungary feature prominently in these early accounts – and this is mirrored in Romantic literature: Lord Byron for example makes Greece the setting of his unfinished vampire story A Fragment (1819). But it was Polidori who was responsible for the vampire’s English pedigree and its elevation of social rank. There seems never to have been an urban, nor an educated bourgeois bloodsucker prior to The Vampyre (1819). A predatory sexuality is also introduced. We see for the first time the vampire as rake or libertine, a real “lady killer” – a trend that metamorphosed into Bram Stoker’s Dracula and anticipated the arrival of vampire romance in the beautiful undead form of Twilight’s Edward Cullen.

As this all reveals, the history of vampires is a disputed and uncertain one whatever your perspective, scientific or literary. But the “vampire” burials discovered by archaeologists of late do cohere with practices that are known to suggest a belief in vampirism (such as piercing the corpse, nailing down the tongue, putting a needle in the heart and placing small stones and incense in the mouth and under the finger nails to stop blood sucking and clawing). These “vampire” corpses do therefore go some way towards finding out how old our belief in vampires actually is.

As an interesting aside, John Polidari was Lord Byron’s physician, which explains his vampire’s suave image and aristocratic manner. And Polidari began The Vampyre in response to the same writing challenge that produced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Frankenstein was the first science fiction novel in history, and vampires of the Lord Ruthven type, including of course Count Dracula, have long dominated the genre of Gothic horror. So the sheer amount of genre fiction that owes its genesis to that one particular writing challenge is staggering.

Famous Female Werewolves?

Artsy has an article up today that asks an important question of the horror genre – where are all the great female werewolves? Think about it. It’s not that there are no female werewolves depicted in books, film, or television, but for whatever reason it seems like they never become anywhere near as famous or iconic as their male counterparts and there are far fewer of them.

Where are all the great female werewolves? Other than the occasional few over the years, there is a marked dearth of them represented in literature and film. When envisioning famous male werewolves, there’s certainly no lack. We can point to young Bertrand Caillet from the famous 1933 horror novel The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore; Scott Howard from the 1985 movie Teen Wolf; Remus Lupin of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter-verse; Wilfred Glendon of the 1935 film Werewolf of London; Lawrence “Larry” Talbot of the 1941 film The Wolf Man; and Jacob Black, the hunky teen werewolf from Stephenie Meyer’s 2005–08 Twilight books (and subsequent films).

There is a certain irony here, because many of the first werewolves to be outed in society from the 16th through the 18th centuries were actually women. Just as our American ancestors had their Salem Witch Trials, Europe had its Werewolf Trials, and a large number of the so-called “werewolves” tortured and burned at the stake were female.

Still, many of the tales that have trickled down from this period of history to the present day focus on celebrated male werewolves who ravaged villages, the most famous of whom may be the German farmer Peter Stumpp (sometimes written as Stubbe or Stumpf). That gentleman made a dastardly deal with Satan himself in order to become a werewolf, murdering and consuming the flesh of good Christian villagers, even his own kin. He was tortured ruthlessly, and his mistress and daughter were flayed alive and killed alongside him.

We remember Stumpp, yet so many of his female peers are long forgotten. In the 17th-century werewolf trials of Estonia, women were about 150 percent more likely to be accused of lycanthropy; however, they were about 100 percent less likely to be remembered for it.

The article offers a long, detailed analysis that pretty comes to the conclusion that female werewolves don’t get traction because the idea of a woman as a huge, hairy beast isn’t very sexy to most people. That’s probably part of it. Also, just as vampire stories are metaphors for dangerous sexuality, werewolf stories are metaphors for dangerous anger – and the idea of a dangerous, angry woman has cut across the grain of popular culture until relatively recently. Then again, with the massive success of films like Quantin Tarantino’s Kill Bill – essentially an homage to the entire concept – it may be that the female werewolf’s time has come at last.

As far as what more can be done about it, we here at Moonfire would love to take a look at a story with a strong female werewolf protagonist. If you have one of those, go ahead and submit it. We’re happy to do our part to promote monster equality!