Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Maleficent: An Afterword

"A good book shouldn’t make you comfortable. It should make you edgy.” – Christine Emmert

Maleficent: An Afterword
by Stant Litore 

The greatest monsters—and the most beautiful angels—are those within us. Christine Emmert understands this, and she reminds us of it with wonder and terror. —No, “reminds us” is such a calm, rational way of putting it. That is not what Emmert’s stories do. Her tales are neither calm nor rational. They fall upon us with a shock, the way her wyvern in The Nun’s Dragon tears a hole in the sky and drops from the stars to earth, or the way Lilith dives shrieking from the dark air, talons extended, to clutch up baby mice or baby people. Emmert doesn’t remind us of anything. She compels us not to forget, compels us to look around at our world and at each other with wide-opened eyes.

LilithThe narrator of Lilith tells us of her marriage to her husband: “Our own wedding vows baffled him when I asked to be shackled to his naked beating heart in the anger of winter.” To read a Christine Emmert story is to receive a communication that is a little bit like that vow. Her fiction is wind and dark wine; she draws us into scenes that are as finely and precisely crafted as gardens, scenes that seem as carefully static and controlled as gardens, or as medieval paintings. But then she stands behind us, whispering the incantation of her story in our ear as we look on, and suddenly thorns and briars tear their way through soil or canvas and rear up dark all around us, as though she is Maleficent. Then we move forward into the darker and more beautiful heart of the story—a story we’d thought for a moment was just a pretty garden!—and the thorns cut us as we go in, and we bleed.

Her prose is beautiful, but it is not for everyone. There is an archaism to it that can prove either seductive or off-putting—as though Emmert is standing at the very brink of language, with a chasm of howling dark behind her, and before her the plateau of our modern language and our modern thinking, with its convenient sentences and figures of speech and comfortable ways of saying and hearing comfortable and familiar things—as though these comforts are a stand of poplars shielding our plateau from reality’s wind. She comes against our poplars with blades fashioned from images and from fragments she has taken from ancient ways of speaking, ways that we can no longer use but whose edges still cut. Then, the poplars down, she lets in the wind. She lets in the cold.

With our hair and our garments streaming behind us, we look out at a landscape transformed by the storm, by the sudden onset: nothing is as it was. Nothing is as we expect. We stride through the remains of our poplars, our familiarities, and in doing this we meet our world again as if for the first time, raw and rough with all of its potential—all of its horror and all of its wonder—laid bare. No comfortable refuge to protect us, no walls mortared with the hard bricks of our expectations.

NunsDragon_Final_LilithWe might meet anyone in this wind, among these fallen trees: maiden or dragon or dark shadow. And they will not be who we expect, and we, the readers, will not be who we’ve thought we are. We might glance up and see stars again, stars bright and burning, stars we have forgotten. Or we might glance down and see blood we have spilled, blood we have forgotten. But in either case, we will not be permitted to just stroll quietly, blindly, in the shade of our poplars.

When you first step up to the medieval painting that a Christine Emmert story appears at first to be, you might think you are strolling in the shade of poplars. But you are not. Because the moment you are in, those poplars will be torn aside, and you will be in the thorn thicket. Emmert is Maleficent, not William Wordsworth. But, turning one page to the next, you must ask: what unsuspected beauty sleeps behind these thorns, waiting for you—you who are sleeping—to wake?

Stant Litore

January 13, 2014

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Nun's Dragon (New from Dante's Heart!)

"A glance showed her the wide night sky behind the dragon, with its millions of sharp yet irreplaceable stars. The moon hung like a jewel. All that open sky, all that darkness in which to hide or fly. Reared against it in all his power and beauty was her dragon. For a moment, it seemed inconceivable to her that the convent had held her in, had been shut around her, when the whole universe was so open and full of starlight."

- The Nun's Dragon. On sale for $0.99

“An utterly enchanting and engrossing tale of the medieval heart.”- Novelist Stephanie Cowell
About “Lilith,” included in the volume: “As a mom, it truly freaked me out. Even though my child is seven, and isn’t in danger of being scooped up by a barn owl any time soon. While reading this book, my daughter was learning about eagles and owls in school and would run up and down the halls screeching and pretending to swoop down and snatch her prey. Freaky.”- The Eclectic Bookworm 
“‘The Nun’s Dragon’ begins with an apparent suicide, then slips gracefully into the past to uncover the tragic, secret friendship between Sister Agnes Dei and Wyver, her dragon. This short novel is a complex narrative about loss of innocence and loss of certainty. It’s a story about the degree to which any church can comprehend or adequately reflect the compassionate nature of God.”
Scholar and writer Jonna Gjevre
The new arrival from Dante's Heart -- Christine Emmert's The Nun's Dragon -- is $0.99 (on the kindle) for the next 24 hours. I hope you'll read it!

Daniel Fusch
Senior Editor
Dante's Heart

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Truly Unexpected Jaunt into Historical Prose

Stant Litore’s “Zombie Bible: What their Eyes have Witnessed” is an exercise in the unexpected. I have a causal interest in zombie and a minimal interest in the bible; Litore’s story should have only been mildly interesting. My preconceptions were completely wrong. “What their Eyes have Witnessed” is a lovely piece of historical prose that surprises at every turn. The real genius of the piece was not his wealth of historical detail, but in his characterization.

While Litore creates an interesting main character in Polycarp, Regina is the true star. Regina shows the trails of the historical women. She is beautiful in her strength and power, but also in her vulnerability. Litore shows an understanding of the fears of women in the dark. By far the best scene is one of Regina’s fear during a long night. While Regina outshines the rest, his other characters are well thought out and believable.

Many readers may flock to “What their Eyes have Witnessed” for the clear historical world building, the dedication to Christian principles, or Zombie attacks; but Regina is the reason to read this novel. I would recommend to readers interested in zombies, bibles, or neither.

I give this piece of 5 out of 5.

Glad to Be Surprised,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Zombie Bible

New from Dante's Heart: the Zombie Bible. The official launch of this series is December 3, 2011 -- but if you've been following and reading Dante's Heart for a while, you can get an early look by visiting the Zombie Bible website or by ordering the e-book edition of the first volume, Death Has Come Up into Our Windows (at Amazon or Smashwords).

Stant Litore's new series sets out to retell biblical tales as tales of wrestling with the unquiet dead; in so doing, the novels and novellas in the Zombie Bible seek to recover the sense of horror and wonder that these tales once evoked...

Take a look. Death Has Come Up into Our Windows is an evocative and chilling read, with scenes both violent and sweet. If you do not own an e-reader, you can download a PDF from Smashwords. The books will also be out in paperback a little later.

From one of Dante's Heart's fiction editors:

"The Zombie Bible isn't just another zombie-story knockoff intended to make sure we turn on all our lights at 2am and keep an axe handy just in case one of the dead happens to break through our deadbolt. The Zombie Bible also wrestles with profound issues: the meaning of life, the meaning of death, the profound inadequacies and desperate triumphs of the human condition, the experience of terrible loss and the possibility of wonders gained beyond all expectation. It is a meditation on history and human nature, on justice and one man's struggle with his God. Like all good literature, it is about you and me and the past as a window into the present. It is a mirror in which we can see something of ourselves, and if we see something of our own ravenous hunger there or the sound of our own occasional cry despair (or hope), it is only because The Zombie Bible is saying something true to us. Shall we listen? I would not have thought zombie stories could be this good, or this profound."

And an early comment on Amazon from a reader:

"It grabs you from the first line and doesn't let go. And the line 'God wept behind her veil in the Temple while the dead ate the city' is right up there with classic horror movie lines such as 'Death has come to your little town, sheriff' and 'They're coming to get you, Barbara.'"

This read is not for the faint-hearted, but also not to be missed. The second volume in the series, What Our Eyes Have Witnessed, will be available in December.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Like the Finest Wine"

Some of you have probably read Christine Emmert's novella Lilith (available on Amazon Kindle), the haunting tale of a woman to whom the primeval demon/goddess Lilith appears in the form of an owl, laying claim to the life of her infant as the price of knowledge and the completion of her work.

Lilith strikes sweet wounds to the heart of any mother who has ever wakened in the middle of the night fearing for her child's safety, or any artist who has labored to complete a long work and felt the weight of unexpected sacrifices.

We were so taken with this story that we turned to author and playwright Christine Emmert this week to learn more about the creator of Lilith.

Christine, what made you want to write Lilith?

It was an odd crossroads of buying a book on Medieval Mythology and a barn owl that was living in our open-air garage when we moved to the country. Lilith has many sides. She is the woman who would not bow down to a patriarchal universe. All women have that wish not to defer born into them as little girls. We suppress it as we grow up and evolve into members of a
society, but freedom still tastes like the finest wine to us.

Could you tell us -- what is your own favorite moment in Lilith? The moment that sits with you most deeply when you close your eyes?

When her husband tells her to paint Lilith. My husband is a visual artist, and he can often depict visually what I cannot say in words. The depth of the visual is stunning and scary at the same time.

I couldn't agree more. What writers do you admire?

I love Katherine Harrison. I think her novel POISON is one of the finest pieces of writing I ever read. I also admire Steven Saylor for his historical fiction -- especially THE VENUS THROW which seems to understand the weaving of good and evil in us on a level that is heart rending.

My friend, Stephanie Cowell, who also writes historical fiction is a big inspiration to me in the depth at which she looks at the lives of famous people. Of course I love Shakespeare who
could make us sympathize with the blackest heart or make us laugh at our own foolishness. Erica Jung's poetry as well leaves me speechless before her honesty.

What else inspires you as a writer -- what gives you energy?

I have always found myth as a great source of inspiration. Myth expresses what is behind the great curtain in simple ways we can understand, even if we can't verbalize it. My animals too help me since I must always try harder to see what they want than what people want. To be really syrupy I have to say love inspires me. I could not do what I do without the support of my husband. Before I met him I drowned in my dreams rather than swam through them to the far shore.

What is next for you after Lilith?

I write plays...and just finished one on Mary Magdalene that I would love to see produced. It is a very different take on what has become an overly familiar story. In addition I want to write more on the mythology of the East. Buddha and the heritage from his teachings has given me new ways of looking at the world. I began a novel, THE DAKINI IN THE CAVE, that braids many myths together.

Thank you, Christine. And thank you, our readers, for listening. We hope that you will each make it to the far shore in the pursuit of your own visions. Please check out Lilith, and watch for future titles from Dante's Heart.

Daniel Fusch, Ph.D
Senior Editor, Dante's Heart Publications
Author, Zombie Bible
Father, Dances with Grownups

Monday, July 4, 2011

Mythology of the West

American mythology is often focused on the wild west and the westward expansion. The west is still considered the frontier where known hits unknown. Tales of the wild west fill books and the movie screen. However, with many modern re-telling's of mythological stories, there is also a re-spinning to add a bit of flair. This is were wild west meets just plain weird. Weird-west tales have found their own niche. One of the best examples being Robert Rodriguez's "From Dusk Til Dawn."

The first half the film reads like any other western. There is your upstanding sheriff, innocent bystanders, and highway robbers. As to be expected the aforementioned robbers attempt to rob a bank, take hostages, and try to get away from the law. Rodriguez follows the mythological pattern to a T, until (Spoilers!) the vampires decide to show up. There is no longer a good-guy bad-guy dynamic. It is man verses monster. The vampire tropes are as you would expect: crosses, holy water, blood drinking, etc. As separate pieces the two genres are typical and common. The genius is in the blending.

Just like America is the melting pot, our modern mythologies are melting pots as well. It is not enough to be a vampire tale or a western. It is the combination that makes the weird-west worth looking into.

Celebrating the Forth,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lilith (Christine Emmert): A Dante's Heart Publication

Lilith: The Night Owl

Christine Emmert

Dante's Heart, 2011

The enemy of every hearth, Lilith visits homes and devours children. When a graduate student writing a thesis on Lilith meets the demoness in the shape of a barn owl, she sees the perfect research opportunity ... until she learns Lilith is hungry for her child! Will Evelyn be able to protect her son from the owl's tearing beak and dark heart? Will she be able to keep her husband from falling to Lilith's wiles? Will she be able to learn who -- and what -- Lilith is in time to save her child, her marriage, and her mind?

Price: $1.99
Availability: Amazon Kindle; if you don't own a Kindle, download Amazon's free app for your PC (apps are also available for smartphones, android, iPad, etc.)
Print Length: 25 pages


The editors of Dante's Heart are pleased to announce the first in a line of Dante's Heart e-books. Check it out! It's a haunting tale that has been on my mind frequently since I read it. If you read it, too, let us know what you think!

Daniel Fusch, Ph.D
Senior Editor, Dante's Heart