Monster Blog – Kieran Walsh

Illustrating Fox Spirit Books of Monsters

By Kieran Walsh

Self Portrait

When I was approached at the beginning to illustrate a series about monsters from all over the globe, the first thing I thought was “Wow – what an opportunity!”. As a child, my visits to the local library in the Irish small town of Kells in County Meath, were always a chance to scour the shelves for any kind of monster or folklore-related books I could get my hands on. These books often contained stories translated from other languages and depicted tales of creatures that were both thrilling and horrifying in equal measures. The illustrations were sometimes few and far between but the ones that were there were definitely something I’d never forget.

Growing up, my tastes moved more towards comics and graphic novels, particularly the likes of 2000AD and other British and American publications. I was always drawn to the darker sides of these comics and in particular the work of some incredible artists who have since gone on to achieve worldwide recognition. While I could never aspire to their level, I always felt that some of these artists influenced my own creative style and certainly provided inspiration for a lot of the darker elements of my own artwork. Around this time, I also became interested in adventure game publications such as D&D-themed Fighting Fantasy books, and the now-forgotten Proteus magazine, which also contained amazing illustrations of ghosts, demons and monsters that were beautifully rendered in ink and pencil. These creatures are often depicted in amazing 3D detail in modern video games but in the mid 1980’s, comics and board games were really pushing the boundaries of what could be achieved in fantasy art.

Being asked to illustrate the Monster series felt like I had come full circle – here was my opportunity to actually be involved in producing something that I loved as a child, while also collaborating with other amazing artists and authors. There was no way I could say no. I’m proud to say that my illustrations featured in all of the books in the series, and in the process I discovered new creatures and tales that I had never even imagined. My young self would have definitely approved…

***

Kieran Walsh is an Irish artist living and working in the UK. Based in Leicester, he has worked for over fifteen years delivering community-based arts programmes in disadvantaged areas. Kieran works in a broad range of media, from digital art to sculpture, as well as more traditional crafts including knifemaking. Kieran has illustrated stories in all the seven monster volumes from Fox Spirit Books.

 

Monster Blog – Maria Galina

We really appreciate the extra effort some of our authors go to in providing these blogs and this would have made an excellent New Year Eve post, so my apologies to Maria for the lack of timing on this one.


 

Ded Moroz

by Maria Galina

Ded Moroz (The Old Father Frost) is a personification of deadly winter cold, and (presumably) an old chthonic god of Slavic tribes confronting deadly continental winter in their poor huts. In Russian fairy tales he still bears relic features – for he may be generous and reward the meek and obedient, but be deadly to those who is obstinate and greedy (and he is still the same in the children’s Soviet film “Morozko”).

During the period of Modern with its inevitable revival of “the Russian national spirit”, Moroz became an object of both poems and plays – where he was still presented as the incarnation of the terrible Russian winter.

But after the October Revolution (1917) an interesting transformation took place. Bolsheviks aiming to substitute religious feasts with the “new” and “atheistic” dates, considered X-mas and even (from 1927 to 1935) the New Year’s Day as “bourgeois” and “ideologically inimical”. When returning New Year’s Day, it was appointed to be a substitution of X-mas and subsequently it was purified from all Christian connotations. Even the Star on the top of a Christmas tree was now the Bolshevik symbol. The problem was: who would substitute Saint Nicolaus, children’s favorite personage? And so Ded Moroz (just an ideologically harmless frost, not a dangerous Saint) was chosen for the role.

And thus it happened – the old and cruel chthonic god became a bearded jolly old man in the red or blue caftan visiting children with gifts on the New Year’s Eve. But of course, it is only a mask, we ourselves know who he really is, and if not – read my short story.

***

Maria Galina is the author of several fiction books, including several novels and the three short story collections Red Wolves, Red Gees (“Krasnye volky, Krasnye gusy”), Chicken God (“Kuriny Bog”) and Not Looking Back (“Ne Oglyadyvayas”). Several of Maria’s novels (Iramifications, Autochthones and Malaya Glusha) and short stories are translated to many languages such as English, French, Ukrainian and Polish. Her short stories can be found in anthologies like Glas New Russian writing, Moscow tales: stories, and Racconti russi al femminile. She’s also awarded for her work in the speculative fiction field and has received many awards, including Personal Boris Strugatsky Award (Saint-Petersburg, Russia), Portal award (International SF Convent, Kyiv, Ukraine), and Readers’ award (Big Book Award, Moscow, Russia). Maria is also a prize-winning poet and a translator of English poetry and SF—she for instance translated Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti into Russian. Maria was born in one of the oldest Mid-Russian town—Tver, and lives and works in Moscow. Find more information about her at https://fantlab.ru/autor1342 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Galina

 

Monster Blog – Shawn Basey

A question on nationality

by Shawn Basey

It is an odd trend to only see regression in today’s world. We look at the last 18 centuries as a reversal of some sort, as though the pagan era were an idyllic time of matriarchy and peace, when neither were remotely true. Perhaps triggering this mindset was Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, but here he’s referring to a time even before that, a pre-agricultural revolution time. But always this looking back to a mythical yesteryear, of better times – it is persistent throughout modern Western culture, whether looking only a few years back or millennia. This looking back is a political tool, of course, to inspire revanchism, to pass the blame game around and build up an active base of support. It is part of saying it’s their fault when the fault is not in everyone else, but in ourselves.

It is a point I bring up in my latest short story for the Fox Spirit Eurasian Monsters anthology, “Lysa Hora”, which takes place in Tbilisi, Georgia, my home. In Georgia, currently, they have long been undergoing a process of national identification. Ever since the latest unification of the country – the liberating of each half from the Ottoman and Persian yokes – there has been an ongoing struggle of the definition of “Georgian”. So much so, that the most respected writer of the time, Ilya Chavchavadze, concerned himself with the question of “Georgianness” throughout his years. The question was delayed by the Russian and Soviet occupations, only to be reignited after the fall of the latter.

It seems a settled question now: Georgian Language, Georgian Orthodoxy, and Georgian citizenship. But in a historically multicultural society – and one that remains so to a large extent – these are flailing definitions at best. Among native Georgian speakers, we find Orthodox and Catholic Christians (among others), Jews, and Muslims. There are four distinct languages within the Kartvelian (Georgian) language family, and one of those exists only outside of Georgia’s borders in Turkey. Among Georgian citizens and those who have lived here for centuries, we find not just Georgians, but Azeris, Armenians, Os, Abkhaz, Russians, and so on – a larger percent of minorities than all the other countries in the Caucasus region combined. Finally, there’s an ever-growing Georgian diaspora, many of whom have broken many of their ties with Georgia fearing it’s not civilized, wealthy, or modern enough for them.

Be that as it may, Orthodox Christianity is what many latched onto as the defining agency of “Georgianness” after the fall of the Soviet Union. And now many are looking towards Europe and identifying it with some brand of secular, even atheism, which casts a growing doubt in their Church. This sentiment, not shared throughout the population, is creating a growing unease about their role with the European West.

And though I don’t disagree with the direction they are looking, I do disagree that the Church – and the Christian Churches of Western Europe – are necessarily the catalysts of all that is evil in history. In fact, it is this viewpoint that is being driven by many in Europe and here, that’s being picked up and waved about as a sword by Russian propagandists. But let’s not go further with that. Let’s go further on why I don’t think Christianity was such a bad influence. Namely in regards to one single story: the Georgian creation myth.

Not much is known about the religion before Christianity. We know some of the primary figures of the pantheon, we know that both Zoroastrianism and the Greek pantheon were big here, and some of the larger myths, and that it has many influences from the Hittites. Most of the myths we know, like those of Amirani and others, have passed along into Christian stories, with the tales of Christian saints often having been transferred from pagan deities before them. The pagan myths held the strongest in the mountain regions, which were the last to Christianize and to this day still hold a great slew of pagan beliefs and practices, from mass sheep sacrifices to a loosely Christianized shrine practice.

In the ancient days, the world was split up into three planes: Zeskneli, Shuaskneli, and Kveskneli. Zeskneli being the home of the gods and the upper plane, Shuaskneli being our plane, and Kveskneli the home of demonic creatures. Shuaskneli is in mythology more of the battlefield between the two planes.

It is from the mountain people, the Khevsurs, that we get what is left of the story of Morige Ghmerti, the chief god, and his sister. Morige Ghmerti so hated his sister that he banished her from Zeskneli, and she was bent on revenge ever since. For every good creation he made, she made an equal, opposite evil creation. He made gods, she made demons; he made men, she made women. Inhabiting as they all did Shuaskneli at that time, it’s said that the gods finally got tired of battling the demons and left for Zeskneli, leaving behind men. Demigods persisted in banishing the demons from Shuaskneli, leaving behind women.

The situation being, all the bad in the world remaining was from women. The beings of Morige Ghmerti were civilized, social, divine. Those of his sister: wild, chaotic, demonic.

It is perhaps the only religious system in the world that has such a bizarre differentiation between men and women. We do get ideas of the subservience of women to men from other cornerse, but never the idea that women are inferior in such an absolute moral sense from the moment of Creation itself.

We have now in fashion this kind of pagan revivalism, which is made ironic in that it’s coming from the left. In the 19th century Europe, we had such a neo-folk movement, but that from the right, molding into the pseudo-mythology of the Nazi elite. Indeed, the right wing volkists still hold such beliefs today. You can find White Nationalists sprinkled all throughout the folk metal and other folklore communities. You find a rise of pagan symbolism as well, with the Slavic sun wheel, Nordic runes, Georgian Borjgali, and others being coopted by nativist/volkist groups.

The interesting trend in Georgia though – and indeed in many circles throughout the collapsed Soviet Union – is that instead of the neo-pagan revival, we see a neo-Christian revival. Looking back to a Christian utopia that never was.

What I’ve attempted to do in “Lysa Hora” is to turn these ideas around. We have the main character, Otar, a simple-minded taxi driver who is drawn in by the poisonous narrative “Georgia for Georgians”. He’s a hard-core Orthodox believer because that is the definition of Georgia that’s given to him. He rejects all things Western, and sees only the “gayropa” that’s being sold down the propaganda mills. Then there’s his sister, Tinatin, who he assumes is “perverted” by her Westernism. But actually, all that he sees in her as evil is innately Georgian, and the actual old Georgian mythos, with its heart devouring kudiani, is much more horrific than the liberal West. Indeed, Christianity itself is an alien religion, brought from the outside.

But it also echoes that question of national identity. “What is Georgian?” Is it Orthodox Christianity? Is it the paganism before it? Is it something current, something new? And I think we can replace this question of national identity with any nationality, not just Georgian. This period of globalization is a huge stress on identities. National, individual, and so on. It is of course, too hard to cast all those off and be the “New Human”, or a “globalist”. We as humans, need positive definitions by others, so we fall back into these accepted classifications. We find safety and reassurance, and that’s what we really need in this changing world.

***

Shawn Basey is originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, and he first came to Georgia in 2009 as a volunteer with the Peace Corps. It was then he fell in love with the country and decided to stay. He is now married and has a son named after the founder of Tbilisi, the city which they call home. He works freelance as a writer, teacher, and editor and enjoys traveling the world with his half-Georgian family. He keeps up a regular blog at www.saintfacetious.com and has published the novel How It Ends and the short story collection Hunger, both available on Amazon. He’s currently working on a novel about Georgia during World War II with strong Georgian, Azeri, and Kazakh folklore elements.

 

Monster Blog : Daryna Stremetska

Lost Adults of the 90s and Their Children

by Daryna Stremetska

I often feel that as a writer of speculative fiction I need to devote most of my attention to the future. But now that it’s been over 20 years since my childhood, it’s the past I’m inclined to examine closer, in the hope of revealing some patterns I wasn’t paying attention to or didn’t understand as a child.

A year after I was born, the Soviet Union collapsed. Ukraine finally got its independence but the socio-economical changes of those first years hit my parents’ generation hard. Entrepreneurship used to be illegal in Soviet Union, so when the factories and plants shut down and thousands of people lost their jobs, nobody knew what to do since there were no jobs available.

Before that, if you lived and worked in a city, you’d usually have some money — but there was nothing to spend it on because the economy was mainly geared towards flexing the Soviet Union’s muscles in the Cold War, not creating consumer goods. After 1991 everything turned upside down: more and more products became available as they were imported into the country. Yet most Ukrainian families didn’t even have the money to buy enough food, due to unemployment and the loss of their life’s savings after the Gosbank liquidation.

Those who had some plot of land to grow their own food, held on to it for dear life. A single vegetable garden often fed two to three families, and working on land was a common family activity, even if most of the adults still had their jobs.

For a long time affordable food stayed scarce. Can you imagine a crowded Black Friday line but with people waiting to buy something as basic as milk? I still remember the particular yellow color of the milk truck we would queue up to when I was about five — probably because everything else around it seemed to be various shades of grey, brown and dark green. People in the line looked tired, sad and — more often than not — angry.

Everyone blamed the government, both the new and the old one. Many felt that their politicians tricked them into poverty, so it was okay to trick the government back and do whatever was necessary to survive — even if it meant breaking the law. Barter economy, black markets and organized crime groups developed in the blink of an eye. As a child, I heard enough horror stories about human trafficking and illegal organ trade to last me a lifetime.

The overall situation seemed to be improving in 1997, when I first went to school. But I quickly started noticing that some of my schoolmates were much better off than me and children from my neighborhood. They all owned exciting and fancy stuff: colorful Polish notebooks, pencil cases with cartoon characters, rubbers that looked like flowers or fruit and had a sweet smell to them. They talked about their VHS tapes with Disney movies and their plans to visit Disneyland someday. I wasn’t even sure what Disneyland was.

But it wasn’t all as bright as my schoolmates made it look. While some of their parents managed to develop shaky small businesses or preserve some of their savings, others actually spent a lot of their time abroad, in Poland, Italy and other places, working hard at manual labor jobs. Some of them had PhDs, yet they worked as janitors or construction laborers, simply because those jobs paid good money compared to the few skilled jobs they could find in Ukraine. Later I learned that some of them had worked illegally, without obtaining any work permits or even visas, and each of their journeys to and from Ukraine was a life-threatening experience.

My Mom used to say, ‘Do you want me to be around or do you want shiny toys?’ I of course wanted her around, and so I never questioned her and my Dad’s choice to stay and work the jobs they could get in Ukraine. But I can’t blame those parents who went for it, even if it didn’t always work out well for them and their children.

So what could possibly go wrong for illegal workers apart from them being arrested and deported? Sometimes they never returned at all, either because somebody learned that they were coming back from “zarobitky” (their work abroad), and robbed, killed or enslaved them. It could also be that they met someone in a foreign country, decided to start a new family and never return to their Ukrainian family.

I also heard of stories where one of the parents managed to obtain a legal status and tried to convince his or her spouse and their children to reunite with them abroad. But the other spouse refused and so the child stayed separated forever from the one parent abroad, or at least until they came of age. Those tales of separation sounded most dreadful to me, because everybody did what they thought was best for their child, and yet the child still suffered.

And so when Margret, the editor of the anthology, asked me to choose a Ukrainian monster I wanted to write about, I remembered all those adults trying to provide for their families the best they could and yet failing to keep them together. But I was still looking for a fantasy creature who could fit into this kind of story. In our mythology, the nyavkas (or mavkas) appear as characters in tales about tragic love, and to me it always felt too limiting. That’s why I gave the Nyavka in my story “The Whitest Linen” a more complex background and her own revenge quest, so you could feel how scary and angry their kind could be.

Daryna Stremetska is a sci-fi and fantasy writer from Ukraine. Her debut short story “The Animals of Ure” appeared in Three Crows Magazine #1 and was also featured in Three Crows: Year One: Anthology of Weird Science Fiction and Fantasy. Being born in the 90s, Daryna’s childhood was mostly free of technology and full of uncertainties of the times when Ukraine was navigating the first years of its independence. Nowadays she divides her time between working in digital media for developers, running a booktube channel Beauty and Gloom, and writing short stories focused on how technology, pride and prejudices affect our lives.

 

Monster Blog : Karina Shainyan

While we endure the real life horror of processing delays and our book being out of our hands, we thought you’d enjoy another blog posts from one of our amazing contributors.


Bagatazh Pass

by Karina Shainyan

This is what my summer job looks like: I’m just a cook but I have a very different workplace. My kitchen, house and everything else that may be needed, are tied to the saddle behind my back. Because here, high up in the Altai Mountains, there are no roads and almost no people: there are only mountains and taiga. I’ve been working here every summer for over twenty years, and I still haven’t had enough.

This picture was taken at Bagatazh Pass, on the first day of a two-week trek. I have just told the tourists that mountain spirits live here. This place seems deserted but ancient Masters dwell here, and they are not human. For the time being, everyone thinks it’s just funny. But in the evening, when it gets dark and everyone gathers around the fire, and fog crawls down from the pass to the camp, the tourists will feel odd. To calm them down, I will tell them that the creatures that reside here don’t show themselves and never pay attention to people.

Almost never. Nearly.

 

Karina Shainyan grew up on the island Sahalin in the Far East of Russia, before she left to study psychology at Moscow State University. Karina has worked as a school psychologist, journalist, and editor. She says “I composed my first horror story when I was five, sitting in a closet with my best friend. It had such a strong effect on him that my parents scolded me for a long time. But I liked it anyway. As I got older, I started writing down my stories, and then it turned out that quite a few people wanted to climb into my closet and become scared”. Karina has written seven novels, including Долгий путь на Бимини (“Long way to Bimini”), Западня (“Trap”), and С ключом на шее (“With a key around my neck”). She’s also published about a hundred short stories, in magazines like Если (“If”) and Реальность фантастики (“Reality of fantastic”), in Кетополис (“Ketopolis”)—a mosaic novel composed of short stories by many authors, united by the pseudonym Грэй Ф. Грин (Gray F. Green)—and in anthologies such as Предчувствие Цветной волны (“Premonition of the Colored Wave”), Новые мифы мегаполиса (“New Myths of the Metropolis”), and Бомбы и бумеранги (“Bombs and Boomerangs”). Find out more about Karina at her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/karina.shainyan

 

Monsters Blogs : Editor’s Blog

The editor’s blog – Eurasian Monsters

The seventh and final volume of Fox Spirit Books of Monsters is out December 20th. The journey started in Europe in 2014 before it continued to Africa, Asia, the Pacific region, then the South, Central and North America. The series has been like a grand world tour exploring old myths, folklore and monster tales continent by continent. Sadly, most travels must have an end, and we close up our journey with a stop in Eurasia.

In Eurasian Monsters you’ll find tales of beasties and monstrous terror from the part of Eurasia stretching from the Chinese border (but not including China) to Eastern parts of Europe. I am proud to present you stories told by seventeen authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria.

Not only do I wish to scare people with monsters they probably have never heard about. I also want the books to give the readers a realistic insight into the continents we cover—it is a journey after all. By returning to the place of origin, by giving authors who grew up with stories of these dark creatures a chance to write about them and own cultures, I hope these books give readers a glimpse of a contemporary, everyday life that is seldom seen by most of the West.

In Eurasian Monsters you’ll find tales about loneliness, living in a harsh climate, and everyday struggle—be it on the streets of Moscow or Varna, at a hospital in Elista, or in a nightclub in Tbilisi, in the forests of Poland, or in the Altai mountains. You’ll find stories with an underlying critic of aspects of society, be it poverty, illegal working or the life of immigrants, border conflicts, the relationship between east and west, or the tension between a traditional life and a modern society. 

I’m pleased to tell that we have as many as seven translated stories in this book, six are exclusively translated for this volume—from Russian, Ukrainian and Polish. I believe the book is much better when these tales are included—and I hope that the translators are just as happy as I am with the stories. The translations also make it possible for me to introduce you to authors that not many in the Western parts of the world know about, there’s even a few who has never been translated to English before.

So why monsters books? Fox Spirit Books of Monsters came out of a discussion seven years ago, where myself and a few others, including my co-editor of the two first monster volumes, Jo Thomas, demanded that something had to be done. We felt that most monsters are forgotten today, while the rest are watered down and overused in the popular media, and then only a few of them dominate the scene—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—and they are almost all from Western popular culture.

In these books we wish to re-establish the monsters’ dark reputation, to give them a comeback. I want to drag them out from the darkest corners, to show how many great monsters we have from all over the world. And we want them visible in the middle of people’s homes, as coffee table books with lush art. Happily Adele Wearing at Fox Spirit Books liked our ideas, and the first book about Europe quickly developed into the world series of seven volumes, one each year.

I am sad to now see the end of my story hunt around the world. Reading these tales has taught me that every country and region in the world has wonderful dark and eerie stories about monsters or dark creatures, some of them maybe thousands of years old. You can find traces of them in old texts and even in old sea maps. Monster folklore is passed down from generation to generation, and these stories are important in traditions and customs. The tales serve not only as entertainment, but often teach a lesson as well. 

Some monsters are universal. You will always find the shapeshifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. But what is important to one culture might not be so vital to another. When I have edited the monster books I’ve tried to see if I can spot a specific pattern in each book, be it a main theme or the choice of monsters. I don’t know if it is a coincidence or a proof that there are geographical differences, but I do believe I’ve spotted some variations between the continents. To mention a few: Magic is one strong theme in monster narratives from Africa and Latin America, for instance, though it manifests in slightly different ways. The volumes focused on Africa and the Pacific region have more beasts, when compared to the other volumes in the series. These two volumes also have a multitude of dark creatures from the wilderness or oceans, or natural forces, such as hail storms or thunder storm. This is also the case in Eurasian Monsters, where especially the thick forests and the mountains are a natural habitat for several dark beings.

Quite many of the stories in Eurasian Monsters take place in the home, however, and wow, the bedroom and kitchen are some truly haunted places. There are also several stories about people and monsters forced to leave their homeland, and so origin gets a strong meaning, just like in the Africa volume. I feel however that this volume is closer to the feeling of home created in the Asian Monsters book—especially regarding those creatures hailing from the folklore of Slavic cultures—and the bond between the living and the dead, whether it is the soul of dead children or dead ancestors. 

I hope you will like this volume as much as I have while working on it.

The monster volumes have been such fun books to edit. I wish to give huge thanks to all the authors and artists. I would also like to extend a warm thank you to Adele Wearing at Fox Spirit Books for believing in this idea to begin with, and all the work she and her wonderful crew have done for so many years in creating such great books.

Margrét Helgadottir

 

Eurasian Monsters, coming soon.

Table of Contents – Eurasian Monsters

We are proud to reveal the table of contents for our last volume in Fox Spirit Books of Monsters: Eurasian Monsters!

The series, edited by Margrét Helgadóttir, has dark fiction and art about scary monsters and dark creatures from around the world, seven volumes between 2014 and 2020. The series is our grand world tour and we have so far been to Europe, Africa, Asia, the Pacific region, and Central, South and North America. 

A number of the stories have been award winners individually across the series, many more have picked up nominations, and our editor won the  very first Brave New Words award for her work on Pacific Monsters. These are beautiful books full of incredible tales and monstrous images.

It’s been a hell of journey so far. Sadly, all travels must have an end, and now this series will close with Eurasian Monsters. This December we bring you 17 dark tales from the vast region stretching from the Chinese border (but not including China) to Eastern parts of East Europe. We are proud to tell that we have stories from all over Russia, from Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria.

We have as many as seven translated stories, six are translated exclusively for this book. You will not want to miss this – we have stories from authors who’s never been translated to English before!

 Table of Contents:

  1. K.A. Teryna: Morpheus
  2. Marta Magdalena Lasik: Daemons of their time
  3. Yevhen Lyr: Sleepless in Enerhodar
  4. Karina Shainyan: Bagatazh
  5. Vlad Arenev: Rapunzel
  6. Haralambi Markov: Nine Tongues Tell Of
  7. Maria Galina: The Visit
  8. Alex Shvartsman: A Thousand Cuts
  9. Daryna Stremetska: The Whitest Linen
  10. Shawn Basey: Lysa Hora
  11. Karolina Fedyk: Our Lady of Carrion Crows
  12. Bogi Takács: Veruska and the Lúdvérc
  13. Eldar Sattarov: Mountain Maid
  14. Kat Hutchson: The Housekeeper
  15. Natalia Osoianu: The Serpent
  16. Alexander Bachilo: This is Moscow, Old Man!
  17. Ekaterina Sedia: Sleeping Beauty of Elista

 

The stories will be illustrated by K. A. Teryna, Kieran Walsh, Elzbieta Glowacka, Nata Friden and Vincent Holland Keen.

Daniele Serra is once again providing cover art, which we will be revealing soon.

Editor is once again Margrét Helgadóttir.

Translation by Mike Olivson, Maksym Bakalov, Piotr Swietlik, and Alex Shvartsman

Monster Blogs : Ernest Hogan

American Monsters Part 2 is available now. 

AZTLÁN: A NEXUS OF MONSTERS

by Ernest Hogan

Okay, I admit it, I cheated. Instead of picking a North America monster to write about, I wrote about a nexus of monsters. The subject is more of a densely populated Hieronymus Bosch triptych than a portrait of a lone specimen.

The region where I was born and lived all my life is full of all the bizarre creatures, beings, etc. I couldn’t pick just one. The Southwest of the United States of (North) America, also known as the Wild West, the Great American Desert, Aztlán, the Aztec homeland, is a land of monsters from Native beliefs, folklore of Anglo, Hispanic, and other immigrant folklore, tall tales, fiction, and various popular cultures, not to mention the bubbling cauldron of new cultures constantly being created that I call recomboculture. Just thinking about them sends my imagination soaring.

The problem with my imagination is that once it starts soaring, you never know where it will end up . . .

I was a monster kid in my childhood, but not at first. There was a time when they invaded my nightmares, and I did my best to avoid them, even though they were everywhere – TV, movies, comic books. It was a monster culture back then, in the Atomic Age. Then one night I dreamed that one had me cornered; I had no choice but to turn around and face it, throwing punches, and the beast-thing crumbled into black dust that blew away.

After that I couldn’t get enough of monsters. I identified more with them than the heroes who slayed them.

Growing up in California, the farthest edge of the Southwest, brought a lot of monsters into my life. Don’t let the popular image of fun in the sun fool you; just as the air is a cocktail of pollutants, monsters lurk everywhere. The beaches are the border to the icy Pacific Ocean, home to sea monsters, real and imagined. The fossil record tells us that much of the Southwest was once under an ocean populated by sea monsters that rival the tales of mariners.

Later, I met and married, Emily Devenport, author of Medusa Uploaded. Living with her helped me learn about Arizona, and its monster lore. Besides sharing our love of monsters, delivered by books and media, we had many hair-raising conversations that caused us to feel inhuman eyes staring at us from the dark, and we take road trips whenever we can, taking a lot of photos and notes.

You want to know where writers get their crazy ideas?

 Unlike California, which is new in the geological sense, Arizona is dinosaur country. There was even once an inland sea with swimming monsters. This is the land of the thunderbird, and even though the pterodactyl-looking photos from the Tombstone Epitath look fake, and are undocumented, they have a funky appeal, and link to the Native myth. Fossilized bones probably inspired many a monster. Recently, Emily and I found a Mexican restaurant where, among the vaquero scenes, was a painting of a dragon.

Some monsters were born here, others are immigrants.

All along the Rio Grande Valley, and beyond, La Llorona, the crying woman, whose origins can be traced to Aztec beliefs about the afterlife of women who died in childbirth – night-walking disease spirits. She is also related to the fancy-dressed, decorated sugar skull-faced Catrinas, a caricature of the middle class that has become a symbol of Latin womanhood and the Day of the Dead.

Also in the night is el Cucuy, the Mexican boogie man, eager to carry away children who wander after dark.

El Cucuy and La Llorona, because of decades of not being on the radar of mass media, have undergone interesting manifestations. In Phoenix, La Llorona is called Mano Loco, and dwells in canals and swimming pools instead of her usual rivers. My mother tells me that in riverless East Los Angeles, she was said to live in a row of trees in a nearby park.

This pre-internet folklore in isolation made the monsters personal, inspiring one of my cousins’ description of El Cucuy:

“He’s eyes – lots of eyes, all over his face. And legs – lots and lots of legs. He grabs you with these legs and takes you away . . .”

Hoodoos are eerie rock formations that seem to be alive, like the saguaro cactus that often has two arms, like a person. Some say that both were originally people, who were transformed by curses

cast by practitioners of witchcraft, both Native and brought over from Spain. I used to doubt Carlos Casteneda because the witchcraft he describes in his books can be found illustrated in Goya’s Los Caprichos etchings, but now I know that witches, as well as conquistadors, colonized Aztlán.

All the supernatural beings probably have not been as thoroughly catalogued as the Mogollon monster and other Sasquash/Yeti manifestations.

Native witches and sorcerers can become the local version of the werewolf – the skinwalker. Not long ago they were a taboo subject, but recently I bought a DVD of a documentary about them in a motel lobby, and had a Navajo taco at a restaurant where the waitress wore a t-shirt with a glyph known as The Wolfman. The monsters are going pro.

Fireballs streaking across the sky have been said to be sorcerers, flying long before the modern world created its own myths of flying saucers from outer space.

It all collides with the science fiction folklore of the modern world.

A lot the old monster movies were filmed here. The backdrop that Hollywood used for westerns also works as a home for monsters.

Like in my story “Cuca” the global, electronic world of corporate entertainment is colliding with the folklore. The issue of who owns these creatures – if indeed they can be owned – will arise.

There is a difference between the motivations of the entertainment industry and the cultures that create folklore. They may be able to coexist, but the monsters can never really be tamed. New fictions, and new realities – and new monsters – will be created. And it won’t be boring.

Makes me glad to live here.

Monsters and Minnesota Nice – A Monster Blog by Catherine Lundoff

“Monsters and Minnesota Nice”

            When I started working on ideas for my story for this anthology, I went looking for local monsters. By “local,” I mean monsters unique to Minnesota, which is where I live now. I’m a transplant from the East Coast, even though I actually moved here from the next state south. What matters from the perspective of living here now is that I didn’t grow up here.

            Growing up here is very important from a social standpoint, at least for white Minnesotans of mostly Scandinavian descent. It means you went to school here, share a common slang (“hot dish” = casserole), have an enthusiasm for the local sports teams and an affinity for cold weather activities. And it means you have a solid grasp on “Minnesota Nice.” The latter means that you are polite, friendly on the surface, adverse to conflict and not infrequently passive aggressive (people who grew up here will take polite umbrage at this). You also talk about the weather a lot because it can, in fact, kill you.

            Minnesota Nice does not lend itself to monsters. Sure, there are ghosts, the occasional serial killer and a fair number of historical atrocities to be found in Minnesota’s history, but monsters? Nope. There’s Paul Bunyan, the legendary lumberjack, and his beloved blue ox, Babe, performing legendary deeds in the northern woods. There are hoaxes, like the Minnesota Iceman, and possible hoaxes, like the Kensington Runestone. But nothing that speaks to the dark, primeval terrors that keep readers awake at night, ready to jump at any noise.

            For those, I had to go back further. The Native people of the Great Lakes region, the Anishinaabe, the Ottawa and other tribes, had a legend that grew out of the brutal winters (yes, they are often as bad as you’ve heard): a huge gaunt ice-coated monster, reeking of carrion, born of greed and selfishness. The windigo or wendigo is a cannibal: once human, it preys on other humans when turned. In some stories, they hunt and eat people, in others, they can also possess them, like a ghost or a spirit. It is nearly impossible to escape them, harder still to kill them.

            They are a lesson as much as they are a threat and a warning. Being selfish and not caring for others during a winter in this region can be a death sentence. In contemporary context, neighbors who won’t give you the time of day ordinarily will appear out of the frozen wasteland and help dig your car out.  You’ll wake up in the morning and someone has cleared the two feet of snow on the sidewalk in front of your house because it’s about survival and they were running the snow blower around the block anyway. We do not survive alone.

            Not too surprisingly, white colonists quickly absorbed the legend, adding elements of their own. From Algernon Blackwood to contemporary movies, comics and video games, the wendigo eternally stalks the north woods. This later version of the wendigo is often more like an animal than an altered person, but is no less deadly for all that.

            What would call to a being like this one? Greed, selfishness and cannibalism, certainly. And, perhaps, the kind of person who despises those who they considers weaker, who manipulates and bullies others into doing what they want, even against their own best interests. Someone who is controlling and petty, the center of their own universe. This is what I imagine in my story, “Hunger,” where the title refers to both monster and prey. Or are they both monsters, each in their own way? Food for thought as well as nightmare.

American Monsters Part 2 – The Final Countdown

This was supposed to be the exciting launch post for American Monsters Part 2. We are having some bugs with KDP. It’s kafkaesque frankly but we will get there. In the mean time, be excited about the book, it is imminent, it will be amazing, it will turn up shortly. 

Thank you all for your patience. I promise, this book rocks, worth waiting for.