The Keys: A Gothic Re-Telling of Bluebeard with Zombies

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The Keys: A Gothic Re-Telling of Bluebeard with Zombies



Cover by Raven


I never liked zombie stories. Bodies of decaying flesh that want to eat you for lunch? Eew!

Because I don’t care for the genre,  I was challenged to write a zombie story that would be defy the current conventions. I found a possible approach in the old films White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie in which the zombies were like glamorous sleepwalkers.  Not only are these old films pushing 100 years old, they seem more authentic.  Whether tasked with turning mill wheels or succumbing to the lusts of the voodoo high priest, these zombies are slaves in an era of slavery.



Ever since reading Angela Carter’s classic, The Bloody Chamber, I’ve wanted to write a Bluebeard story. Carter adds poetry to this tale of secret wife murder to theatrical effect. The young innocent girl, caught up in her own vanity, is rushed, and rushes, into marriage with a head full of romantic ideals. It ends in her worst nightmare: seduction, temptation, the unveiling of a mystery of unspeakable horror, and betrayal.

Adding zombies to Bluebeard and his cabinet of dead wives took me down the creepiest storytelling path I’ve ever followed. My Bluebeard, Armand Guy de Rais, concert pianist and ladies’ man, wants a Stepford wife. Poor Lissette, at sixteen she’s hardly lived. Now she must allow  her soul to die—-for love.

Giles de Rais

The original Bluebeard, invented by Charles Perrault, was inspired by French general, Giles de Rais who fought alongside Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years War. Retiring to his chateau in Brittany, he fell into the practice of Black Magic and child abuse. Convicted of sacrificing hundreds of virgins to Lucifer, he was hanged in 1440.

In the The Keys, my villain, classical pianist Armand Guy de Rais, is a descendant of the infamous Giles.  To avoid the bloodbath of  the French Revolution, Armand flees to an island in the Caribbean, there to enact his terrible deeds.

Stories are like equations, it seems. I had no idea, when starting out, that zombies, plus Bluebeard, plus Giles de Rais, plus the French Revolution would add up to scariest story I’ve ever written.



The Joy of Revision

The Joy of Revision

Photo by: Sama Hotoke

I got a Writer’s Digest workbook “Write Your Novel in 30 Days” because reading these things gets the Muses going even better than reading fiction or watching films for some odd reason. It has great advice of second drafts as well. In there is a list off agents’  pet peeves and among them is beginning a story with dialogue.

I was in theater for most of my life and love films and writing screenplays, so sometimes dialogue is what gets me into a story. This happened with The Roses of the Moon (Which I wrote the first draft of in 30 days in November 2007 without even knowing there was this Novel in 30 days  thing going on.) My editor told me it was very bad to open with dialogue, so I grudgingly brainstormed a setting description. It improves the book a lot!

The Lady in Yellow opened with  an entire page of dialogue I wasn’t sure about that, but reading the agents’ pet peeves convinced me to open with the setting. I think it improves the book a lot!

Won’t argue with that any more.

I’d be curious what you think is better.


This was the old opening of my novel ( to be released this fall) The Roses of the Moon:

The Roses of the Moon

“Marcsa Virag! Get away from the door!”

The voice burst out like a blast of cold wind, blowing me into the shadows below the torchlight. The points of my shoes caught in the swirling hem of my shirts, tripping me to the floor. I broke my fall with my hands and, winded for a moment, glanced around for my doll. She was gone. I turned to look back the way I had come and, through a blur of tears, saw my doll’s small, dark shape lying in a wand of firelight between the wall and the door cracked open upon the private chambers of the Countess Orzsebet.



The Roses of the Moon

Our castle was full of echoes. In the daylight hours, the walls reverberated with the noises of men going about their business. Sharp footsteps, low conversations, doors briskly opened and shut reassured me that the world was as in its proper order, that we were safe. But at night, the isolated sounds of women threaded through the maze of corridors and stairs: skirts rustling, hinges creaking, whispers, cries, and songs. Sometimes there were screams.

One evening, at dusk, I heard a voice like a golden bell ringing along an eerie minor scale. The voice led me down a long corridor to a door that was always closed to me. A seam of firelight streamed along its lower edge, a snort of dragon’s blood seeped out. The beautiful voice held me in its spell, then slowly faded away and the emptiness was filled with a chorus of deeper voices, chanting.

Clutching my doll to my heart, I pushed the door open just wide enough to see clouds of smoke, flashing candlelight, and white, disembodied faces.

“Marcsa Virag! Get away from the door!”

The reprimand struck like a blast of cold wind, blowing me back into the shadows below the torchlight. The points of my shoes caught in the swirling hem of my shirts, tripping me to the floor. I broke my fall with my hands and, lying winded for a moment, glanced around for my doll. She was gone. I turned to look back the way I had come and, through a blur of tears, saw its small, dark shape lying in a wand of firelight between the wall and the door, holding it open upon the private chambers of the Countess Orzsebet.


The Lady in Yellow – a tale of Victorian werewolves inspired by Henry James Turn of the Screw, will be available on Kindle this coming week.

A young governess takes a job at remote Belden House only to find herself falling deeply in love with a werewolf…

The first version of The Lady in Yellow is in the previous post. Compare it to this and tell me what you think:

The Lady in Yellow

Chapter One


The spindly agent stood behind his shining Chippendale desk reading Veronica‘s reference letter. The stack of papers neatly squared on his blotter was much higher than the the mere covering letter and two references she had sent him. Veronica shifted her gaze to the classical sculptures, the enormous paintings, the imposing floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. He’d said he had the perfect position for her: governess to a pair of twins. The bonnet ribbon tied at her throat felt much too tight. When the agent cleared his throat, so did her smile.

“Miss Everly?”

“Yes, Sir?”

The agent leveled an assessing gaze at Veronica through a pince nez perched on the end of his long, elevated nose. She straightened her shoulders, grateful for the support of her stays, and tucked the scuffed toes of her shoes under her hem.

He set the letter down on top of the stack of papers, squared them, and tapped them with the tip of his boney finger.  Then he picked it up again and, pacing away from the desk, perused the missive one more time. He sighed.

“You must understand, the twins are a bit difficult. Am I correct in seeing in your covering letter that you have had experience with a mad child?”


Trouble with writing is that you never stop learning. It makes me very glad that I have 10-12 years of unpublished manuscripts, that I never submitted them and that they have sat stewing until I know what to do an why to make them the best they can be. I hope once I get these polished and out the door, that the next several books I have cooking will come together much faster. Have I reached mastery? Guess I’ll  have to wait to find out.

I have to polish up:

Salome: The Seventh Queen – novella about Salome who danced for the head of John the Baptist and then regrets it. Now she must dance to bring him back to life. Horrific!

Memento Mori – novella of a remote English village haunted by ghosts of those who died of bubonic plague in 1666

Rosewolf – YA  novel about a girl werewolf

 Once those are done and out in the world, I am back to the fabulous right-brain world of writing a first draft!

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Themes in my Fiction

This post was pulled from my other blog, Gothic Faery Tales. It talks about the continuing themes on my work. Roses, Briars and Blood was created at Gothic Faery Tales and I have developed it further since.


What is the Difference Between Gothic Faery Tales and Traditional Fairy Tales?

Now that she is awake, Briar Rose returns to the palace and the Evil Queen. What else can she do now that she is Undead?

Gothic Faery Tales are reworkings of traditional Grimm’s Fairy Tales, or are based on their themes.

The Gothic Faery Tale writer is interested in the dark, disturbing elements of Faeryland. Whereas most contemporary re-tellings focus on sweetness, simplistic portrayals of good vs evil, and happily ever after endings, Gothic Faery Tales dive deep into the fears, anxieties, and superstitions of the subconscious.

The familiar fairy tales have been ‘Disneyfied’, or cleaned up, for children. Gothic Faery Tales evoke the primal, erotic, and blur the lines between god and evil. They are written for adults.

Vampires, werewolves, changelings, sorceresses, black magicians, dragons, all belong to the Gothic Faery Tale. It is possible that these figures of fright have always been part of the folklore fairy tales come from, or perhaps they crept in over time, leaving the pages of novels and the stage to inhabit the fairy tale realm and spice it up a bit. Of course the evil Queens and witches have always been part of Tradition and most likely held the door open for these others.

What is Our Attraction to the Dark?

Because the greatest mysteries have been forced into hiding; the most powerful truths are sequestered in the dark. To find the core, we must have the courage of a knight or a fool to enter the kingdom of shadows. To know ourselves deeply, as individuals, and as part of the whole, means to discover the vision of the light that lives within the blackest night.

Many great writers have used traditional fairy tales as a basis for their work.

The poet Anne Sexton  was one of the first writers to explore her inner conflicts through the use of fairy tales. Her book, Transformations, explores the limitations of being a woman in the 1950′s, and the dark psychological issues that kept her constantly on the brink of suicide.

It should come as no surprise that Gothic writers have a fascination with death. But isn’t death in its final form, for it is always transcended. The character who dies, or like Briar Rose and Snow White, fall into a 100 year sleep, are always brought back to life. Just as the Vampire is.  Faeries also inhabit the betwitx and between, the boundary between life and death.

There is an interest in transformation. Death is the ultimate transformer and shape-changer. The magnetism of the dead coming back to life mirrors the cycle of the seasons, mirrors the natural progression of living forms on Earth. This is primal. We cannot escape the cycles of seasons: birth, growth, decay, and death. Of all of these death is the most powerful. Yet, Gothic Tales suggest it is possible to live inside of death, to move, to relate, and to haunt. Gothic artists and writers reveal that to accept the facts is to transform them into something glamorous and fraught with desire.  Sometimes the dead become the living in the same gesture by which the living become the dead. It is the mirror realm of reversals where we walk head downwards like images reflected in a still pane of water.


Simply put, the favored seasons for Goths are Autumn and Winter. Seasons of decay and death, silence, and a strange quality of light.

The decadence of fringe societies is like the golden decay of Autumn, a time when approaching death produces a gaudy display of glory. Winter covers the coffin under a snowy blanket, making the grave a place of hibernation with the potential to incubate new life. Gothic Faery Tales often take place in dim, ornate, quiet rooms with high ceilings and vast sweeping stairs. Places that are haunted and haunt one with feelings of dread and revelation.

Some Gothic tales seem to have been written by authors immobilized at the threshold between childhood and adulthood, and unable to cross over because of some deep fear of the adult reality. Welcome to the nightmare, the adults seem to say. Here is the true darkness of corruption and loss.

This is the border from which the Gothic Faery Tale beckons with its darkling wonders.

Come across the threshold. The dark is painful and at the same time so achingly beautiful. Of course you are curious. We embody the mystery you seek.”

Here we shall tell secrets.

The parts we are not supposed to talk about. The hidden things. The secrets that give the fairy tale its power penetrating over us.

To set the tone, here is a short piece from  1979′s The Bloody Chamber by the legendary Angela Carter. Based on Snow White, it is entitled:

The Snow Child

by Angela Carter

Midwinter — invincible, immaculate. The Count and his wife go riding, he on a grey mare, she on a black one, she wrapped in the glittering pelts of black foxes; and she wore high, black, shining bots, with scarlet heels and spurs. Fresh snow fell on snow already fallen; when it ceased, the whole world was white. “I wish I had a girl as white as snow,” says the Count. They ride on. They come to a hole in the snow; this hole is filled with blood. He says: “I wish I had a girl as red as blood.” So they ride on again; here is a raven, perched on a bare bough. “I wish I had a girl as black as that bird’s feathers.”

As soon as he completed her description, there she stood, beside ther road, white skin, red mouth, black hair and stark naked; she was the child of his desire and the Countess hated her. the Count lifted her up and sat her in front of him on his saddle, but the Countess had only one thought: how shall I be rid of her?

The Countess dropped her glove in the snow and told the girl to get down to look for it; she meant to gallop off and leave her there but the Count said,” I’ll buy you new gloves.” At that, the furs sprang off the Countess’s shoulders and twined around the naked girl. then the Countess threw her diamond brooch through the ice of a frozen pond. ‘Dive in and fetch it for me,” she said; she thought the girl would drown. But the Count said,” is she a fish to swim in such cold weather?” Then her boots leapt off the Countess’s feet, and onto the girl’s legs. Now the Countess was as bare as a bone and the girl furred and booted; the Count felt sorry for his wife.  they came to a bush of roses, all in flower. “Pick me one,” said the Countess to the girl. “I can’t deny you that,” said the Count.

So the girl picks a rose; pricks her finger on the thorn; bleeds, screams, falls.

Weeping, the Count got off his horse, unfastened his breeches and thrust his virile member into the dead girl. the Countess reined in her stamping mare and watched him narrowly; he was soon finished.

Then the girl began to melt. Soon there was nothing left of her but a feather a bird might have dropped,a blood stain, like the trace of a foxes kill on the snow, and the rose she had pulled off the bush. Now the Countess had all her clothes on again. With her long hand, she stroked her furs. the Count picked up the rose, bowed and handed it to his wife; when she touched it, she dropped it,

“It bites!” she said.

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