Manuel Arenas

[This issue, we sit down with author Manuel Arenas. Here, he discusses his new collection, Book of Shadows; his love of fairy tales; and his upcoming projects.]

ev0ke: You recently released Book of Shadows: Grim Tales and Gothic Fancies through Jackanapes Press. First, congratulations! Second, how did you go about publishing the collection through Jackanapes Press? Did they approach you? Did you submit your manuscript and they snatched it right up?

Manuel Arenas: I had been working on a manuscript for a prospective poetry collection for years, but kept hitting stumbling blocks. In the interim, I started getting individual poems published in Spectral Realms (from Hippocampus Press), and the pieces which seemed to get the best response from the editor, S.T. Joshi, were my prose poems. So, in desperation to get something out into the world, I decided to do a chapbook of my prose poems which were mostly fairy tale themed. While shopping around for a publisher I noticed that fellow Spectral Realms contributor Kyle Opperman had just put out a gorgeous collection of Halloween poetry, Past the Glad and Sunlit Season, through a fledgling publisher called Jackanapes Press. I contacted them, explaining my predicament and asking whether they’d be interested in looking at my manuscript. To my surprise, I received a response from Dan Sauer, whom I already knew through social media as well as his artwork for Spectral Realms. He agreed to see my manuscript and soon afterward responded saying he would not only be glad to publish it, but he wanted to double the table of contents and illustrate it as well! I had another chapbook planned which featured my more diabolically themed poetry and prose, so I decided to add that on. Then, Dan suggested I include “Gothilocks,” an earlier tale which I had talked about dusting off for an update. So, I added that as well as the associated tales.

ev0ke: Several of the stories in Book of Shadows draw on the Brothers Grimm. What do you find appealing about fairy tales, and how did you decide which to adapt for your own collection?

MA: To be honest, I didn’t really set out to adapt any one tale. I began to write and my love for Gothic horror and European fairy tales dictated how the stories played out. I am thoroughly steeped in both, so the apposite themes and images just come out naturally in my work. It wasn’t till after the fact that I realized where some of the ideas had sprung from, as in the case with “Morbidezza”, which draws from the Grimm Brothers’ “Maid Maleen” and “Snow White”, respectively, as well as “Morella”, and “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe, and even Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Regarding fairy tales, I am mostly influenced by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, but am aware of other authors and traditions. I love their forest imagery as well as their admixture of folk tradition, fantasy, whimsy, and primal horror. 

A great influence on my own Antimärchen (anti-fairy tales: i.e., gloomy stories with unhappy endings) is English author Angela Carter, whose seminal book of re-imagined fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber, still holds a great fascination for me in my own quest to create a flawless hybrid of the Gothic and the Fae. Her exquisitely written retellings of famous contes de fées by Charles Perrault, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, & al. with their unique blend of fairy tale, feminism, eroticism, ribaldry, and Gothic horror were the impetus behind my first forays into the genre. I have been trying to write like her for over twenty-five years and have yet to come close. 

I also draw a bit from classical mythology. For example, Hecate makes several appearances in my stories and poems, although sometimes you must look closely to find Her. She is referenced in my poem “Hell-Flower” and is hinted at in “Gothilocks”. Although I do play up Her darker aspects, I try to be respectful.

ev0ke: Two of the stories — “Greetings from Krampus” and “Nativity in Black” — offer a horrific take on yuletide. How did you go about combining “the most wonderful time of the year” with the dark and horrifying? And did you have a lot of fun doing it?

MA: I became aware of Krampus a while back and had been wanting to write about him, but couldn’t think of what to say until some friends of mine asked me to write a lyric about him for a play they were putting on. I took too long to research and write it, so they went with something else, but I still have this wonderful poem that has become something of a holiday classic which I recite at yuletide poetry events every year.

“Nativity in Black” was inspired by the song “N.I.B.” from the first Black Sabbath album. I was listening to the song one day, when I began to think about the story behind the title. Apparently, a throw away name referencing the goatee of drummer Bill Ward, which apparently was shaped like a nib. As an arch jest, bassist/lyricist Geezer Butler decided to add the periods after each letter. When the band became popular in the US, someone started the rumor that it stood for Nativity in Black. I mulled over the title for a while thinking I might write something for it, but it wasn’t until I was watching my DVD of the 1976 film “The Omen” that it all came together. I wanted it to be a sort of black humor inversion of the traditional Nativity story but was wary of being too disrespectful of that tradition. Even so, I had fun describing the myriad creatures in attendance for the occasion. I don’t name any of the demons outright, but the noteworthy ones may be recognized through their descriptions.

I referred to the King James version of the biblical story and tried to mirror some of the language and imagery for the first paragraph or two, but from there it devolves into a phantasmagoria of diablerie. I gave it the subtitle “An Antichrist-mas Story”, with the hyphen strategically placed so people couldn’t claim that I was propagating Anti-Christmas sentiment. Even so, I still start whenever someone knocks at my door, as I fully expect the villagers to come by with pitchforks and torches to burn me in an auto-da-fé for heresy.

As a side note, instead of Britain or Northern Europe I had my witnessing witches (taking place of the shepherds in the original story) hail from a coven in Zugarramurdi, a town in the Spanish province of Navarra with an ancient witch tradition.

ev0ke: “Rosaire, Master of Wolves” follows the birth and fate of a werewolf. In addition to your own work, which other stories featuring werewolves would you recommend, and why?  

MA: I have not found many werewolf stories that I have truly enjoyed. There are a few that I can recommend, like The Were-Wolf by Clemence Housman, which has a bit of a fairy tale feel to it, or the novel The Black Wolf by Galad Elflandsson (to whom I dedicate “Rosaire”), which is an adventure story with Lovecraftian overtones. 

“Rosaire” was inspired by a story that never was. I was reading a collection of stories by Clark Ashton Smith featuring alternate early drafts of his belletristic weird tales. One such tale was “The Beast of Averoigne”, which is about a creature from out of space that crawls from a meteor and ravages the mediaeval province of Averoigne, one of the made-up realms in which Smith based his stories. The alternate version is called “The Werewolf of Averoigne”, but the title is the only significant difference and there is in fact no werewolf to be found in its pages, which I found odd as Smith does mention “the werewolf-haunted forests of Averoigne” several times in his tales. I decided to rectify this dearth of werewolfery by writing “Rosaire.” For inspiration I went back to Angela Carter’s stories “Wolf Alice” and “Company of the Wolves”, which are full of traditional lore, Gothic horror, and no doubt informed by the historical lycanthropy cases of the 17th & 18th centuries. I did my own research on such matters in The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould, as well as The Werewolf by Montague Summers.

ev0ke: In addition to prose, Book of Shadows also contains poetry. Which was the most difficult, but ultimately most satisfying, poem to write?

MA: To be honest, I find verse very difficult to write well, which is why I am beginning to turn my focus to prose poetry. I have great ideas and am noted for my unusual word choices and phrases, but I am sorely lacking in technique. Most of the verse in Book of Shadows has had theoretical input from various other poets from the Spectral Realms stable: K.A. Opperman, Scott Couturier, and Adam Bolivar all looked at the manuscript prior to publishing and gave their two cents on several pieces. Some revision suggestions were quite humbling.

I think the one I am most satisfied with is “The Baleful Beldam”, about a witch who lives in an enchanted forest. I received technical help on it from poetess Ashley Dioses as well as S.T. Joshi. I recall poet Frank Coffman having some really nice things to say about it when he saw it in print.

ev0ke: Where can readers find your work?

MA: Most of my poetry can be found in Spectral Realms, beginning with issue #9 and I have contributed prose tales to Penumbra; both are published by Hippocampus Press. For information on these, as well as my other publication appearances, I have a detailed bibliography on my blog, Manny’s Book of Shadows.

ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?

MA: I have another collection in the works which I hope to bring to Jackanapes Press once it is done. I also hope to someday create a video program like the television horror hosts of yore, but where I talk about Weird poetry, and do recitals, reviews, &c.

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