The other night, I had a visitor over my house and she’d asked me how I got to writing horror. I told her how it started with Dark Shadows and the Hammer films. Stephen King, among other authors, only fanned the flames, I said, ignoring the fact that my dance with horror began 51 years ago, during a trip to Atlantic City with my mother. Had Mylar balloons existed, Atlantic City would have never happened because the balloons would have shielded my eyes from the sight. But, Mylar balloons didn’t exist, so I was left to face the monster on my own. And I never mentioned anything about Atlantic City to my friend.
After all, this story isn’t the kind of thing I’d tell to the uninitiated. I usually reserve this one for Halloween.
When I was a child, my mother and I used to go to the Italian Village at Atlantic City’s Million Dollar Pier. The Village knew how to make some mean hoagies, and gluten never entered the picture. At the time, there were amusements and goodies such as those booths where you could take four selfies for a buck. One day, they had a pavilion closed with a curtain, seated on a dais. The billboard read, “See live 1000-year-old woman.” That sounded awesome, so I got in line.
The people ahead of me formed a C-shaped ring around an ornate bathtub. Later on, I learned that bathtub was actually a sarcophagus. Further ahead, I made out jet black hair and a shriveled face. The woman had on an ornate vest, but nothing else. I stepped up to get a closer look. Not a woman after all, but a mummified skeleton. I stood there frozen, and the people just kept looking and chatting among themselves, as if they were gathering at a party. Seconds later, she turned her head and raised her arms, extending her hand. At that, I bolted from the pavilion, screaming.
As I got older, I realized that most likely the folks who engineered this constructed machinery and invisible ropes to make the body move. But when you see a dead body look your way, you don’t consider possibilities. You run. For most of my life, thereafter, I’ve had this fear of skeletons—I’d discussed this in previous blogs. I think I worked my way through it; noticed that I have skeletal images for illustrations. I’ve got a real beauty of a skeleton photo in NTD 29. All the same, I rarely buy Halloween balloons. I go with floral shapes and Mylar butterflies.
I’d say this sighting in Atlantic City ignited my fascination with horror. Then I moved on to Dark Shadows and the Hammer films which fueled the flames, followed by Stephen King. Thankfully, my Mylar balloons serve as a moderating influence.
I’m offering two giveaways: A signed copy of Steel Rose and a copy of Night to Dawn 28, to be given to a random commenter during this blog hop. And if you can guess how many Mylar balloons I have, the person with the closest guess will get an eBook copy of Close Liaisons and City of Brotherly Death.
At the bottom of my fascination with zombies, revenants, and evil aliens lies a terror of human skeletons. Every writer fears something, a “demon” that drives their stories. Some people dread the site of fire; for others it’s the Great White. For me, the sight of a skeleton, particularly one with debris on it, will send me burrowing inside a bouquet of Mylar balloons.
Why? I think my dread of skeletons started with my trip to Atlantic City that I described in my Night to Dawn blog. The mummy’s parchment dry skin literally hugged her bones. Not a shred of fat or muscle. My skeleton terror accompanied me everywhere I went.
For example, at age thirty, I underwent three knee surgeries, necessitating frequent visits to an orthopedist’s office, where the skeleton became a teaching tool. But I wasn’t interested in any anatomy lessons. Instead, I covered the bones with my coat, sweater, and sometimes a sheet if one was available. My orthopedist Dr. Hill asked one day why I covered his skeletons. Blushing, I yanked the sheet off the bones. My quick movement jarred the head, causing it to snap off the body, land on the floor, and roll like a bowling ball down the hall.
Dr. Hill stood there and laughed. He wisely sent me to another room for future checkups.
At the time, I went to school at night, and one of the instructors held her class inside an anatomy lab equipped with a human skeleton. Spooked, I draped my coat and scarf over the bones for every lesson. A creative writer, my instructor encouraged me to channel my fear into a horror fiction tale. You’ll find plenty of skeletons in Twilight Healer, Steel Rose, and City of Brotherly Death. Ditto for the sequels to Steel Rose.
So what’s your personal demon? Which monster motivates you to write horror fiction? I look forward to hearing about your experiences.
I’m offering a signed copy of Steel Rose (first prize) and copy of Night to Dawn 26 (second prize) to a random commenter. Overseas winners will receive Starbucks gift cards and PDF copies.
Marge Simon has mastered many talents – poetry, art, editing, short stories, and…cooking. She edits the journal Star*Line. Her collaboration on Vectors: A Week in the Death of a Planet with Charlee Jacob won a Bram Stoker Award in 2008. She has received the Rhysling Award for her poetry, and the James award for her illustrations. When she’s not writing or painting, she enjoys catering to the monsters we know and love and will be happy to share her recipe for Zombie’s Delight. So tonight, I will chat with Marge about her writing and other talents.
BARBARA: That meal you’ve got going is a zombie’s delight. So yes, you’ve got me curious about the recipe.
MARGE: All right, Barbara, Zombie’s Delight is a secret family recipe which I’ve been given permission to reveal only once:
Purchase hand fresh from your local Hand Stand. Make sure it is tender by pinching the skin. A male hand, bone in, is best; some female hands, if adequate, will suffice.
Prep hand with garlic salt. Boil five minutes on medium heat. Drain juice, put aside.
Place in large kettle. Combine 2 cups chopped celery, 1/2 cup diced liverwurst, 6 used bandages (preferably gauze), 1/3 cup toenail clippings, 1 egg, slightly beaten, 5 cups watery plasma, 2 tbsp. Saki, 1 cup wallpaper paste. Pour over hand. Cover. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. You’ll know when it has the right consistency. Remove from heat. Chill one hour. Pour or scrape into baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 3-5 hours, or until the aroma becomes overwhelming.
Serve warm with the au jus you set aside and probably forgot about.
BARBARA: Moving onto writing – I noticed you used your own illustrations for Vectors as you did with Artist of Antithesis. Many publishers prefer to assign their own cover art to their books. How did you approach the publisher about using your own?
MARGE: In both cases you mention, the editor/publisher knew I was/am an artist. In fact, I’ve never had a problem with providing cover art for my collections. As fate may bring luck, I’ve also illustrated five Bram Stoker winners. But I don’t for a minute think that it was on the strength of my art that the publication won.
BARBARA: How did collaborating work out for you and Charlee Jacob during your work on Vectors? What are the advantages and disadvantages of collaboration?
MARGE: Here’s how it happened. Charlee had written a series of poems about an apocalyptic virus that went global, infecting every mortal on this planet. In May of 2007, she invited me to join her as a kindred voice in this collection, as I have written numerous poems along the same lines.
Problems with collaborations? Charlee and I had no problems between us. If you want me to make this more exciting, Charlee and I had crazed fits and vowed to never to speak to each other again. I refused to change a single word, and so did she. But that isn’t so.
BARBARA: From what I’ve seen in Night to Dawn, you wear several hats: illustrator, poet, and fiction writer. Which one do you like best?
MARGE: I like them all. I also wear an editor’s hat (for Star*Line, digest for the SF Poetry Association). Then there is my TV talk show: DEADLY SURVIVORS and my Food Channel show: DYING TO EAT.
Oh, as for the other hats–I love multitasking. I’m happiest having something going in all departments.
BARBARA: I notice that you’ve collaborated with other artists for the Night to Dawn illustrations. How does collaborating work for illustrations, especially if you and the other artist live miles apart?
MARGE: Cathy Buburuz (Saskatchewan, Canada) and I “met” thanks to ETOU magazine, about 1989. I was so intrigued by a cover she did, I had to get acquainted. We started collaborating long distance snail mail in the 90’s. I thought her excellent designs would work well with my (then) stylized pen/ink line and vice versa. She agreed, and for about a decade, we continued to work on art–mostly dark fantasy. She would send me about five or more unfinished compositions or vice versa. Cathy marketed our collaborations both in the USA and abroad. It was a wonderful experience, which continues with our work that she still has available.
Today, you don’t need to wait weeks to do collaborations, thanks to the Internet. I can’t think of anyone else that I’ve collaborated with in a long time, and I don’t do digital art, though I now use Photoshop for enhancing my paintings/illustrations.
BARBARA: What has been the most challenging part of the writing/illustration process?
MARGE: Leaping off very small buildings (outhouses) to get attention on U-Tube. Singing shocking songs in London Square. Pointing at my own paintings/book display, saying, “OMG!!”
Seriously, “challenging” is a personal word for me. I challenge myself. I know what I think I can do. Sometimes it’s a nice surprise. Other times, I see I’ve gone over the top and need to scrap it.
Writing a novel would be a real challenge for me. But I’ve always tended to write flash fiction–that’s a fun challenge. A book would be too much like work, and besides, I’ve a short attention span. (That is my excuse, anyway!)
BARBARA: When did you first get into writing? Where did you get your first credit?
MARGE: If you mean professionally, that’s hard to say. I’d guess somewhere in the mid-80’s. Which makes me old enough to be a witch. My first big (to me) credit was Bradley Strahan’s Visions, Black Buzzard Press. It was an all SF theme, and I’d never written a SF poem until that time –never even heard of one. Wrote one anyway. He took it. After that, I got into Amazing Stories with poetry. Around the same time, I started doing pen/ink stylized art –mostly dark which was well-accepted. My style and media are constantly evolving; I prefer watercolor with oil or watercolor pencils nowadays.
BARBARA: Which contemporary authors would you recommend to readers who love dark fantasy?
MARGE: Peter Beagle, Harlan Ellison, Charles Beaumont, Ted Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Bruce Boston, Gene O’Neill, Stephen King, Elizabeth Massie, Cormac McCarthy, to name a few writers of dark sf and fantasy. I know this may be contradictory, considering my recipe and lifestyle, but horror per se doesn’t appeal to me.
BARBARA: What do you believe the future holds for dark fantasy and supernatural thrillers? Will ebooks replace paperbacks, do you think?
MARGE: Don’t know. But as for what I hope–NO. A book is to be held and cradled, if you will. A book can be laid down on a surface where you know what it is by the cover and then you pick it up and start reading it again. You can have a personal relationship while reading it. A book has its own smell. It gives you secrets.
BARBARA: What advice would you give to aspiring authors and illustrators?