Monthly Archives: October 2012

If you go down to the woods today…

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October is the month of all things dark and haunted, and for me, there could be only one blog topic. The forest realm. Fantasy literature has long worshipped the forest, from Tolkien’s Mirkwood through to Kenneth Graham’s Wild Wood. Images of woodlands are many and contrasting, as different as slow moving Ents are from Whomping Willows. And like vampires and werewolves and all things ghoulish, stories of the forest realm have a long and fascinating history.

The earliest written accounts of forests construct them as dark,

A water naiad emerges from a woodland brook for some sexy fun with Hylas (J.W.Waterhouse, 1893).

fearful, and often intensely erotic places—much like the ways in which modern western imperialists have described the orient. Following resistance to Roman empire-building in the forests of northern Europe, Tacitus wrote of bestial Germanic Wild Men gnawing the bones of defeated legions, while Julius Caesar and Strabo described the Druids of the British Isles burning sacrificial victims alive in wicker men, images that have resonated through the ages.  Rushing forward to medieval times, the scariest creatures of the forest were the fairies. A far cry from the sparkly wing-wearing, pink-clad kiddies of today, the fair folk embodied the spirits of the dead, feared as child snatchers, shifters, seducers, and even murderers and rapists.

Anne Cain’s interpretation of Herne the Hunter for the cover of my book, Bound to the Beast.

Fortunately, forest lore provides us with plenty of brooding heroes too, from Robin Hood to the wonderfully tortured Herne the Hunter, a glowering, alpha male bearing the antlers of a stag and whose dark origins lie in the horned gods of Norse and Anglo-Saxon myth. To my glee, my extensive research into forest lore has also uncovered a plethora of historical bondage. The cliché of being blindfolded, bound, and taken to the hidden camp in the heart of the forest can be traced back at least as far as Roman accounts of the tribes of Germania.

The “otherness” of the forest, it’s exclusion from so-called “civilized” societies, has also resulted in one of its most wonderful manifestations: as a place of sexual liberty. The Greenwood has long been the realm to which lovers escaped to break away from the shackles of social and sexual norms – think Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On more modern note, in E.M.Forster’s novel Maurice (originally written in 1913-14, but not published till 1971) the homosexual hero evokes the romantic image of “Sherwood.” The idealized English Greenwood of the past is the imaginative space in which Maurice and his male lover can exist unfettered, in stark contrast to the homophobic reality in which he struggles to fit in.

The Reconcliation of Titania and Oberon–amid much orgiastic fun! (J.N.Paton, 1847)

So, sod being creepy—here’s to the forests of the world! Let’s hope you survive to keep haunting, inspiring, and liberating us, for the next several thousand years.

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Kay Berrisford is the author of the two Greenwood m/m fantasy novels, Bound for the Forest and Bound to the Beast (a tale of Herne the Hunter). A third Greenwood novel is in the works.  Her most recent publications are contemporary fantasies Catching Kit and the forthcoming Sex, Simon, and the Solstice Stone. You can find out more about her writing at kayberrisford.com

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Bound for the Forest by Kay Berrisford

Bound for the Forest

by Kay Berrisford

Giveaway ends November 01, 2012.

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Chicago Ghosts

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October is a haunted time.  We turn to stories of ghosts and goblins to chill our blood and amaze us.  I thought I’d share a local ghost story from here in Chicago, just to whet your appetite.

Chicago is full of ghost stories, both spectacular and ordinary.  Whether it’s a woman grabbing a ride from unsuspecting passersby to stories of a haunted television studio used by Oprah Winfrey (that used to be a morgue), the dead seem to flock to Chicago.

One of the stories that raises the hair on the back of my neck is that of a man who died in Evanston, the first suburb north of Chicago.  Since I live in the northernmost neighborhood in Chicago, this is an area I know well, though I’ve never seen the man himself.  Called “Seaweed Charlie,” he appears near Calvary Cemetery on the shores of Lake Michigan.  Some say he drowned in the lake and haunts the cemetery so he can have a decent Catholic burial.  Others say he’s a pilot that drowned in the lake before he could be rescued when his plane crashed into the water.

Other stories are included in the book, Ghosts, Curses, Jinxes:  Chicago’s Street Guide to the Supernatural, by Richard T. Crowe with Carol Mercado.  You can create your own ghost tour of the city or find one at Chicago Hauntings.  Have you researched your area for hauntings and other local stories?  If you haven’t yet, you owe it to yourself to poke around in your local library for hyperlocal books and publications.  Ask your reference librarian for local sources or check out Arcadia Publishing, who specialize in hyperlocal books and media.  They are focused on the United States; do you have a favorite source for other countries?  I’d love to know, in comments.


“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
– E.E. Cummings

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Check out BURNING BRIGHT, available from Samhain Publishing.
Check out EMERALD FIRE, available from Torquere Books.

Check out “Taking a Chance“, part of the Charity Sips 2012 to benefit NOH8, available from Torquere Books.

October is for Bloodsuckers

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That may be overstating the position a little, in fact. But this October we start with our new policy of themed months, in which each month we all blog on a similar topic. This month, as one might expect for the month in which Halloween falls, the theme is the paranormal. As a result, I am musing about vampires.

I’m writing a novel with vampires in it at this very moment. Which probably makes it a bit odd that I have to confess that it’s been a long time since I saw the appeal of bloodsucking corpses in opera capes. Is it just me, or is it widely accepted that the lure of vampires is thematically almost identical to the popularity of rape in romance stories? Ie, our dear repressed reader likes thinking about sex but has internalised the idea that they ought not to. As a result they are stuck in a mindset where they want to be forced into it, so they get to have it, but to not have it be their fault.

Maybe I am making this up, but I feel sure it’s old hat as a theory, that the blood drinking part of vampire stories, with the penetration by pointy objects and the swooning etc, is symbolic for sex. So the appeal of vampires as a whole is the appeal of sex to someone who isn’t really comfortable with dealing with sex except at arms length through a metaphor. It’s all very Victorian, I can’t help thinking. Surely we don’t still associate sex with death in quite such an overwrought, repressed-but-guiltily-titilated manner? Aren’t we all a little more liberated than that, more comfortable with our own sexuality, these days?

Judging from the popularity of sexy vampires, maybe not.

But what about those of us for whom sex is not a terrifying (but strangely attractive) monster in the room? Is there anything vampires can do for us? Can they be used as a different metaphor? Can they be made interesting in another way?

I think so. One of the best vampire shows I’ve ever seen was Ultraviolet, the TV series with Jack Davenport as a cop turned reluctant ‘leech’ hunter. (Look at that ‘leech’ as a nickname for vampires. Doesn’t that already give everything a different slant? Wonderful!) In this series, vampires were bloodsuckers in the sense that they were the people who latch onto your emotions and drain them dry. They would use all your soul – dreams, compassion, fears, everything sacred to you – to manipulate you. This series took ‘sexy’ vampires, allowed them to do everything possible to snare the viewer’s sympathy, and yet by the end of it you honestly believed these were irredeemable monsters, and if you were anything like me you detested them with a passion you’ve never felt for any other villain in your life.

It made vampires interesting again, as monsters.

That’s what I’m going for in my book – vampires as monsters. We seem, IMO, to have lost the horror we should have at the thought of a parasite that takes the body of your loved one and uses it to suck the life out of you. Vampires as a metaphor for AIDS, I could see. Why hasn’t someone done that yet? Or perhaps they have?

What do you think? Is there mileage in the monster still, or are you too busy enjoying the sexy kind to want anything different from that?