Night Time Logic is the part or parts of a story that are felt but not consciously processed. Those that operate below the conscious surface. Those that are processed somewhere, somehow, and in some way other than… overtly and consciously. The deep-down scares. The scares that find their way to our core and unsettle us in ways we rarely see coming…
Hello and welcome. My name is Daniel Braum, I am an author of strange tales, a term I use for stories written in the spirit of Robert Aickman, stories which explore the tension between the psychological and supernatural. These stories are often but not always of the quiet or literary kind. In this column, which shares a name with my New York based reading series, I explore the phenomenon of Night Time Logic and other notions of what makes horror and good fiction by looking at the stories of my favorite authors along with the work of new voices.
My previous column with author Venita Coehlo explored ghosts and folklore specific to India. Brenda Tolian’s stories are also setting specific all of them intersect with a place called Blood Mountain which you will learn about in our conversation.
I first read Brenda’s work in The Jewish Book of Horror back in 2021. In the time that followed I had the opportunity to read with her for Jason’s Weird Reads at an event discussing the book. (The Jewish Book of Horror Anthology Readings and Discussion – YouTube) Her work consistently delivers a strong sense of place and connection to the natural world which captured my attention and is the place we begin our talk.
DANIEL BRAUM: “You see a raven and a hawk sharing opposite ends of a telephone pole, just waiting for something to turn up dead.”
The above excerpt is in the first of the interstitial narrative passages that are present between the stories. Birds and all sorts of animals and flora populate the tales. What is it about the natural world that is vital to this collection of stories and to your storytelling?
BRENDA TOLIAN: Animals are natural consumers but not in the same way as humans. In the opening you referenced the hawk in its own way is an apex predator, sometimes scavenger and the raven is a scavenger. They take what the Earth renders in the natural cycle, never asking for more than that in contrast to humans who are never sated in appetite. The animals and flora function as the blood of the environment while humans have metamorphosized into a kind of outlier, a cancer. The way I write is in using this often-overlooked dichotomy and contrast of the natural and unnatural. The mountain acts as a catalyst in transmutation of the flesh into its basics conveying emotion, desires, hunger, morality and values. You can hide, but the mountain, animals and flora will ultimately expose those traits.
The first short story, the title story “Blood Mountain” is the tale of Saul Eaton, a gold prospector who encounters and is possessed by a supernatural entity in the mines in the Sangre de Cristo mountains back in the 1800s. The story originally appeared in the book “Consumed: Tales Inspired by the Wendigo”
Can you tell us a bit about Wendigo lore? And how you used it in “Blood Mountain”?
Owl Goingback wrote in Consumed Tales of the Wendigo that, “Tribal narratives insists the more the monster (Wendigo) eats the hungrier it gets, its physical body growing in proportion to the meal just consumed so it can never be full. Never satisfied. Always hungry. So, starved, the creature has been known to devourer its own lips, leaving only bloody tatters, gnawing its fingers to the bone” (Goingback Intro). The valley, Sangre de Cristos and the San Juans have suffered under colonization that I would argue has never ceased since the first conquistadores arrived. It has been carved up and pulled from the Indigenous and Hispanic settlers who consider the San Luis Valley sacred. The lands wrested from those who called it home some enslaved, many killed and many more forced from the land or watching as their ranches, farmland and way of life was carved up, easily stolen because the edicts of the U.S Government were in English. Miners came searching for gold and minerals boring into the Earth’s skin and bones in their never-ending hunger called Capitalism. The wounds are evident even today in language and cultural loss, water stolen to feed urban sprawl, pools and gardens. Religion and belief appropriated by trust-fund Anglos. I could go on but it is the blind consumption of this hauntingly beautiful place that drives the narrative in “Blood Mountain.”
The Sangre de Cristo mountains are a recurring element in the book. What is it about the place that inspired this project?
I was told when I moved there by many that the “Mountain will accept you, swallow you, or if you are lucky spit, you out.” It’s strange but I feel the mountain chewed me up a bit and defiantly left deep scars, but eventually let me and my daughters walk away. Not everyone is so lucky. Many die there, many disappeared and have never been found, still more are twisted into malignant things never to recover. The newspaper local and national and experience informed my writing. When you live there you can’t help but wonder if she twists the minds of those who live on her rocky body. I am forever altered by my experience, and I am not the only one. When you watch the sun set behind you in the San Juans and the invisible wounds open as the shadow of blood is pulled like a curtain down from her lofty peaks into the dunes of sand you will know that you are there uninvited. She (the mountain) does not need or want you.
“It was never a white man’s story to tell- yet you still try.”
Can you tell us about this line that concludes the second interstitial section? And tell us about the Native American presence in the area and in your work.
The San Luis valley is the traditional, sacred land of the Blue-Sky People-the Ute, Apache, Navajo, Tiwa, Tewa, Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne nations. The Spanish followed as herders and hunters but poured in on the heels of Don Diego de Vargas in 1694. However, soon the Manifest Destiny rhetoric of the U.S would cause an influx of white settlers, miners, ranchers and military obliterating the people, language, beliefs the very culture of the valley. I would say that the south part of the valley fought hard to retain the culture but in the north of the valley it is all but erased. In the north part of the valley there is heavy appropriation by White folks in crazy mixtures of their version of ‘Native Beliefs” and drug tourism in particular — sweat lodges, ceremony, peyote and ayahuasca. I have seen an Indigenous person brought to a drum circle simply because he unwittingly added legitimacy to an all-white circle. I have met way too many white men who claimed they were Indigenous gurus who preyed upon people, the weak, ill and women in particular. I guess I wondered if the Mountain ever got angry. That line above in a way is my thinking out loud — it’s impossible to tell a story in this setting without having diverse voices, but you must research, you absolutely must have sensitivity readers from the cultures you are writing and actually listen to them. If you don’t, you’re plain lazy and probably will offend many in the process. Don’t be a jerk.
“He watched as their feather splayed like fingers, catching the unseen breaths of the valley wind”
“Mystery lay upon this land and opened as it desired, using various lenses and playing tricks. The tricks often ended with deadly results to those who did not tread with respect.”
Often in literature the land is perceived as cold and indifferent to human lives and tribulations. These lines from the story “Estsanatlehi” portray the land as a character. The narrator Jake who acts as a good Samaritan reports a feeling of dark magic and of trespassing in a sacred place.
How did you go about building the land as a character, and why? What kind of character did you want to convey?
The land to me feels like a woman and it parallels the female body in human tribulation, colonization, birth, pain and rape. In “Estsanatlehi” (also known as “The Woman who Changes”) a man with “good” intentions stumbles upon a natural progression that has been the land’s story since the beginning of time. What was natural to the Earth was abnormal to the stranger in a strange land. He came to the valley unknowing of the culture, traditions, mythos in a very ethnocentric mindset. I identify with this, having to check my own bias taking years to understand and yet still having so much more to learn. He observes her pain without understanding that it is natural pain that Estsanatlehi must undergo just as the movement of seasons and migration of animals. The white man is the interloper wanting to change the land, stop what he thinks is abnormal or savage. But the Earth and the female body are perfection already, sacred and ours. The perpetrators, often men but sometimes women, throughout the book drill, penetrate, take, impregnate, rape the land in the same ways that the female body is traumatized. The Earth, the Mountain is much like the old goddess Tiamat or Lilith asked or forced to behave in ways not natural. So, it is not as Jake thinks, “dark magic,” it is instead the primordial power of the Earth and the feminine doing what we do and not needing a man’s help in the process.
There are often negative and or uninformed tropes and portrayals of Native Americans in horror. What are some of these tropes that you’ve encountered? How does your work in this book differ?
I am not Indigenous, nor am I blind to the cultures that make up the valley. I have in my studies and writing encountered both the trope of “savage” and “noble savage” both are evident in works going way back and even now. White people are always digging up a “Indian” burial site or adding a character as in the movie Antlers where indigenous are given a tiny part to lend legitimacy to a borrowed mythology that does not otherwise involve the culture. It is white appropriation to use the folklore, the traditions and not give space to the Indigenous individuals themselves.
I cannot write my characters without the use of a sensitivity reader. I ran my book through these particular readers a few times especially the chapters that deal with Chicano/Hispanic, Indigenous characters. If you do not do this, especially as a Anglo writer, then you should not be writing. I’m not kidding! If it is not your experience then you must do your research, you must read writers of the culture you are trying to give voice too. If you don’t then you are no better than some of my more human monsters in Blood Mountain.
In the story “The Stone Mother” the narrator, Sarah, speaks of “Grandmother Mountain.” She says, “I believed the mountain a living thing; watchful, waiting, drawing me in. I wasn’t sure if I should fear it or let the mountain have its way. Mostly I felt like I waited for it to direct me somehow, like a god.”
In the stories the mountain appears as and takes on different meaning to different characters and groups of people. Tell us about the Red Sisters, Sister Yana, and the Blood Mothers and what the mountain means to them.
The mountain is interpreted different for each character, not unlike how humans view the concept of a deity. Some of the characters feed her, others get lost in her, some run, some just live oblivious under her shadow collecting rattlesnakes in boxes in secular transaction. Some force their version of her on others, while some harm even kill in her name. Some go crazy trying to get closer, have communion and desperately pray for internal possession. Mostly they all in some form or another claim to know what the mountain wants, put words in her mouth, sin in her name. But in reality, is the mountain acting at all?
The Red Sisters/Red Women are that which have gone so left they are right, or so right they went left. They believe they speak for the mountain and represent another kind of silencing by ideology. Women have this amazing gift for protection, but in terms of this work, the Red Women victimize as much as the men and monsters. As I wrote them, I rendered them how I saw them, much like Diana’s preying upon Medusa who had already been raped by her husband Zeus. What occurs when a community of women refuse to believe a victim? What happens when they shame a female child or a young woman? What happens when they tell other women what to do with their body? What happens when women have no autonomy over their fate and womb and are instead forced into motherhood, punished because they do not want to be a mother or unbelieved when they are raped. What happens when women wear the scars of other woman’s fists? It is a deep dark cave that women are forced into at the hands of other women. For Sarah in The Stone Mother the mountain is the grandmother, the ancestor, a continuation of the true mythos of the never-ending war upon the female body. Sarah speaks but no one listens.
Visions and rituals are present in several of the stories. The characters perceive these things in their own unique ways.
“…it was the same energy that drove herds of elk off cliffs in an advancing storm.”
Tell us about some of these visions and rituals and how you used them in your storytelling.
I have been an observer in some strange rituals on the mountain, again mostly Anglo folks appropriating beliefs from Indigenous (or their version), Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, Wiccan, and mixing them together in a kaleidoscope of ritual. For a while I wanted to find some faith in all that but honestly, I was left cold. There is a lot of ritual drug use involved in tourist spiritual seekers and so it reflects in my stories. I will say those mountains are old though, they will show you things and you will wonder if you are sane or not. I have tended the flames of a funeral burial pyre and felt the spirit of the dead nearby. And more times that I care to think about I have felt last breaths of the dying, the sprit as it throws off the mortal coil. The place I experienced honestly was more like the movie Midsommer and I still try to understand all that happened there. I work it out through my writing.
I like stories that do not “wrap up neatly” or “have a tidy bow on them”. Not all of the stories in the book have what one might perceive as typical resolutions or structure. Tell me about some of the endings and ending points. Please feel free to mention any of your favorites. And let me know your thinking on these endings and ending points.
I guess those endings you speak of are a bit like trauma. You can change, go to counseling, whatever but sometimes it strikes like a rattlesnake when you were just trying to go on a happy hike. Trauma can be healed but scars remain the ending is the myth that self-help books put out there in propaganda. I think resolution and happy endings are like that a tied up pretty book of myth.
“Ink Poison” ends weirdly, a daughter wanting her father to be that “a father” but in the end she can’t save him. Real life is like that because we truly have no real control over anything but ourselves and even that is debatable. I think horror can offer truth that is so real it cuts. If anything, horror writers are the truth dealers in the writing world. I also like the loop or rather leaving my protagonist in a loop because this is also human nature choosing wrong things over and over. I guess you can say I also burn my bridges, and I do this on the page. I don’t really remember stories with happy ending — I remember those that shove a knife in my heart and walk away. Not everyone’s cup of tea I suppose.
“The mountain gives you what you want if you give it the blood.”
All of these stories are about or in proximity to “Blood Mountain.” Where did the idea come from? Tell us about the real Blood Mountain and how it inspired you.
Oh, I was inspired by experience, history and stories lifted from the news. The San Luis Valley, San Juans and the Sangre de Cristos. You can’t escape the raw beauty of the place, the haunted antiquity of the environment. Writers have been inspired by this place for a long time in fiction, poetry and song. To walk The Great Sand Dunes, to hike up Mt. Blanca and to wander the Penitente canyon, you feel so small so insignificant. It’s true that you feel watched when you walk and its true that danger is always present from mountain lion, bear, dust storm, fire, falling and killers who silently hunt. That mountain, the experience of it almost took everything from me, but instead it refined me and made me the writer I am today. So much I can’t say but know this — it will always haunt me, but I will always be grateful that I got stronger because of the experience.
It was wonderful having you as part of the 2021 New York Ghost Story Festival where you read from your story “Slaughter Lodge.” Can you tell us about this story? Why did you choose to read from it?
That story has a ghost/poltergeist. I know some will argue that the two are different but in that story the one leads to the other- it grows like the fungi representing this regeneration. I suppose I read it because it scares me the guru is a combination of all the evil I have ever encountered in life and lifted from the news. Women who come across such a figure if they are not dead from it are rendered ghosts of themselves, hiding unable to tell their story because the figure is respected in the community. It doesn’t have to be a hippy guru, it could be a pastor, a priest or a family member. The burden of a rape charge is firmly placed on the victim not the perpetrator.
What are some of your literary influences? And how did they inspire this project?
I read so much from Angela Carter, Nabokov, Stephen Graham Jones, Kafka. I read widely in various genres such as poetry, mystery, classics, and obscure texts. I am also inspired by the directions my graduate work takes me in discovery of authors most have never heard of. As far as how do they inspire my work-for me it’s the delicious words and how they are crafted into meaning. In meaning I want to understand the themes they are trying to convey. From them I learned that death and tragedy at least in my writing must have meaning. The sacrifice must be for a reason.
What is a mosaic novel? Are these stories meant to be read in order of appearance? When and why did you decide to go the route of this kind of presentation?
I was inspired by the John Steinbeck Gothic novel set in a similar form called Pastures of Heaven, Italo Calvino’s If on a Winters Night a Traveler, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire and of course Gabino Iglesias’s Coyote Songs. The stories can stand alone, but together if joined by setting or characters can also function as a novel, and if joined by interstitial passages then it offers more legitimacy as a full corpus, a body that has interlinking parts, hands, feet, brain but still a complete body. I am not simply interested storytelling, I am also interested in how the flesh, bones, skin make up a book. The formation from the cover, the chapters, illustrations , point of view chosen, font — – all of it is art. I don’t pretend to be as wonderful as my literary heroes above, but I study their craft and the publisher’s choices, fascinated not just with the words, setting, characters but how they placed them on the canvas of paper. Pure wonderment.
I would say that the stories do not have a definitive order but if taken with the interstitial passages they do. However, like memory, the stories can be out of order, recalled differently they are not static.
Did the interstitial passages, the numbered sequences, come during or after the drafting of the stories?
My mentors Mario Acevedo and Dr. David Hicks thought I needed something to hold the stories together in constellation. I admit feeling a bit rebellious and was like, “Fine I’ll write it all in second person like Italio Calvino!”. The joke was on me though because it actually worked.
I also was inspired by an honorable sherriff I knew, who might be the most noble law officer I ever will know. I often wondered how he saw what he did every day and still retained humanity and a smile. He will always be a hero to my family.
There are lots of actual, physical monsters in these stories. Some of them on first look might seem familiar but all are different in their own way then monsters we might know. A common tie between all of them is the mountain. Tell us about some of these monsters and their connection to the mountain and each other.
Mankind has always thought they are the ones that conquer mountains, but she will stand long after humans have ceased to cover the Earth. The trick of the monsters in my book is that the most grotesque monster pales in comparison to the monsters that humans can become. We all have this aspect and fight it daily in our choices. The mountain is a great magnifier if for nothing else but her isolation. How does a human behave when most of the world is fifty plus miles away? Is the mountain actually doing anything at all? Or is the isolation of the place a cause of madness. The Indigenous who call the place home consider the mountain sacred, but to the Anglos who come it is as all conquered lands have been — a place to take from without consideration of the consequences, damages, or any understanding of the environment. Manifest Destiny was never about consent.
There are themes of metamorphosis and corruption running through these stories. Many characters find themselves enthralled by outside forces? Tell us about these themes and elements in the stories? How do you approach theme when writing?
The ultimate theme is consumption not fear. We are a rather glutenous species operating on wants more than need. Characters such as Samuel in “The Turning of Tsétah Dibé” at first seem like they desire love and family, but really, he chooses vice over love and family reaching for the easy want, the selfish want. The Red Women on the one hand seem to have a close communion with the land and the feminine body but in reality, they want power. In “The Stone Mother” Sarah made a choice in abortion but it is reversed by the very women who should have understood her situation. They claim devotion to a goddess but take on the form of the very energy women face today in the world.
“Seraphim” is a story I wrote during the week of dealing with the early days of my brother’s death. In real life and death, he was vilified for dying of an overdose, for an addiction he could not fight against. One person, a Christian person told me that he wouldn’t go to heaven, (insert theme of power here) but that is why I don’t buy into religion much. I dreamt that he was of the highest order of angels, and we burned everything to the ground. His transformation was burning bright and having the strength to destroy all that had sought and ultimately succeeded in killing him. Our health care system, our religions all make monsters of those who need help.
I suppose then I operate also within the theme of hypocrisy. William Zuni is also a great example of this, he may go full monster but he has a heart unlike the guru of the mountain
What do you want readers to know about before reading this book? What do you want them to come away from it with?
I suppose I should offer a trigger warning. There is rape in the book and considering 1 in 4 women are raped in their lifetime and also considering mostly men write the experience, well I think in the stories it occurs within make sense but is also told from a woman’s experience. I cannot explore the themes without its inclusion. I am very interested in humans and their behavior what makes us cross the threshold into evil. What drives us? I hope that the ecological, feminine, familial, consummative themes all are rendered evident. If it’s not too much I hope that my book elicits change no matter how small. And to that end I want my book to haunt the reader forever.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Brenda S Tolian MFA is the author of Blood Mountain out June 8, 2022 published by Raw Dog Screaming Press. She is a member of the HWA, AWP and the Angela Carter Society. Her work has appeared in 101 Proof Horror, Consumed Tales of the Wendigo, The Jewish Book of Horror, Twisted Pulp Magazine and the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. 8. She is also part of the trio of directors at Ouroboros Screaming the dark wing of Hillary Leftwich’s Alchemy Writers Workshop. She also co-hosts The Burial Plot Horror Podcast with the author Joy Yehle. Currently she works on her doctorate and lives and explores the great city of New Orleans. Her website is www.brendatolian.com
Daniel Braum’s stories often explore the tension between the psychological and the supernatural. He is the author of the short story collections The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales (Cemetery Dance eBooks 2016), The Wish Mechanics: Stories of the Strange and Fantastic (Independent Legions 2017), the chapbook Yeti Tiger Dragon (Dim Shores 2016) and the novella The Serpent’s Shadow (Cemetery Dance eBooks 2019) His third collection, Underworld Dreams, was released from Lethe Press in September 2020 and is out now as an audio book. His novel Servant of the Eighth Wind is coming from Lethe Press in Summer of 2022.
He is the editor of the Spirits Unwrapped anthology. His work has appeared in publications ranging from Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and the Shivers 8 anthology edited by Richard Chizmar to the Best Horror of the Year Volume 12 edited by Ellen Datlow. He is the host of the Night Time Logic series, and the annual New York Ghost Story Festival. Please subscribe to his YouTube channel DanielBraum where you can find free streaming versions of Night Time Logic interviews, readings, and more. He can be found on social media and at bloodandstardust.wordpress.com
About the New York Ghost Story Festival
When the year grows old and December’s daylight departs too soon it is time to fill the dark nights with stories of ghosts and the supernatural. The New York Ghost Story Festival is an annual event of ghost story readings and discussion hosted by Daniel Braum founded in 2021, featuring authors of the uncanny, strange and fantastic from New York and around the globe.
Stay in touch at the Daniel Braum or Night Time Logic pages on social media. Visit http://bloodandstardust.wordpress.com for information and dates of the December 2021 Festival.
Visit the DanielBraum channel on YouTube to tune in live to the 2021 Festival (and other content) or watch it later at your leisure.