Women in Horror Month Fiction Fragments: Nicole Givens Kurtz

Earlier this week, Girl Meets Monster kicked off Women in Horror Month with a post about horror fanatic Dimi Horror whose social media platform is Black Girls Love Horror Too. And, on Wednesday, I had the chance to chat with horror writer and soon-to-be filmmaker, Kenesha Williams. Today, Nicole Givens Kurtz shares a fragment of her fiction and talks about her writing process, current projects, her role as editor for Mocha Memoirs Press, and what it’s like to write horror while Black and female.

Nicole Givens Kurtz is an author, editor, and educator. She’s a member of Horror Writers Association, Sisters in Crime, and Science Fiction Writers of America. She’s the editor of the groundbreaking anthology, Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire. She’s written for White Wolf’s Vampire the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Anthology, Bram Stoker Finalist in Horror Anthology, Sycorax’s Daughters, and Serial Box’s The Vela: Salvation series. Nicole has over 40 short stories published as well as 11 novels and three active speculative mystery series. You can support her work via Patreon and find more about her at http://www.nicolegivenskurtz.net.

About A Theft Most Fowl: Sent to investigate the theft of a sacred artifact, can Hawk Tasifa unravel the threads of the conspiracy before it destroys the Order?

Following her success in Gould, Hawk Prentice Tasifa returns to her university to unravel a mystery. Someone has broken into the Museum of the Goddess and stolen its most sacred artifact, attacked two of the guards, and is trying to frame her mentor. Under pressure from The Order, Prentice is urged to find the culprits, but not all is as it seems.

Can Hawk Tasifa see through the echoes of her own past and find the dirty birds before they destroy everything she loves?

Ten Questions

GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster and thank you for being part of my first Women in Horror Month series, Nicole. What projects are you currently working on? Is horror your primary genre, or do you write in other genres? If you write in other genres, which do you feel most comfortable writing, and why?

NGK: I am currently working on a science fiction mystery/futuristic noir series called Fawn & Briscoe. I write primarily in science fiction/fantasy mysteries, but horror is a close second. I feel most comfortable in mystery and horror genres, although I have written contemporary and paranormal romance.

GMM: When did you first know that you were a horror writer? How did you develop an interest in the genre? What initially attracted you to horror stories? Which writers influenced you then? Which writers influence you now?

NGK: I realized I was a horror author after I wrote my first scary story in 10th grade. It involved a Thanksgiving dinner gone horribly wrong. I fell in love with the horror genre when I was 4. Where the Wild Things Are was the first horror book I read, and it remains one of my favorites to this day. I graduated to King in elementary school along with Poe and then to others later in life like Shirley Jackson, L.A. Banks, and Tananarive Due.

GMM: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019) explores Black horror and the portrayal (and absence) of Black people in horror movies. As a definition of what Black horror means begins to take shape, Tananarive Due says “Black history is Black horror.” What do you think she meant by that? Can you give an example of how this idea shows up in your own work?

NGK: So much of Black American history has been absolutely horrific from being enslaved to the Reconstructive Period to Jim Crow to the Civil Right Movement to the era of Black Lives Matter, living as an African-American in America is to be constantly enraged (Baldwin), but also a witness to the real monsters of the world–mankind. I draw much of my horror from those marginalized spaces that depict the true depravity of racism and the monstrous nature of white supremacy. For example, in many of my weird western stories, the protagonist is a Black woman in the west. The combination of freed slaves and disgraced Confederate soldiers in the southwest/west both seeking new identities and opportunities among scarce resources create a hotbed of horror stories…some very close to the truth.

GMM: As a WOC/Black woman writing horror/dark speculative fiction, do you feel obligated to have a deeper message in your stories? Can writers of color write stories without broader messages about identity, class, and racism? Is it possible to divorce yourself from that ongoing narrative within our culture when you set out to write a story?

NGK: I don’t start out writing stories to incorporate a deeper meaning or message; however, since most of my stories have Black women or POC women as protagonists, issues of identity, class, and racism appear because they are very much a part of our reality. It is difficult to divorce the effect those things have on me, as a person, a Black woman, a Black mom, etc. I can only speak for myself, but it is not something I can do with my storytelling. Because those items affect me, they affect my heroines.

GMM: What are your top five favorite horror movies, and why? Top five horror novels? Which book or movie scared you the most?

NGK:

Top 5 Horror Movies:

  • John Carpenter’s The Thing (original): The shapeshifting nature of The Thing and the paranoia amongst the crew are expertly done and continues to be peak awesomeness today.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (original): As someone who suffers from insomnia since I was a child, this movie scared me to death. Exhausted and yearning sleep, the fact that something in my dreams could hurt me in real life completely terrified me.
  • Midsomer: The beauty of Midsomer is that it lures you into a false sense of security with its brilliant sunlight, welcoming community members, and gorgeous grounds, until WHAM! It all goes topsy turvey in ways I could not have foreseen or predicted. Stunned. It bears multiple repeat viewings, too.
  • The Girl with All the Gifts: Zombie. Black Girl. Doesn’t give one iota about humanity. Straight. Up. Insane. Love it!
  • Event Horizon: I probably should’ve led with this one, because it is my favorite of the lot. Awesome if not over the top acting. Crazy blend of science fiction and horror. A real wild ride. Just good scary fun. I have to watch it every time I see it on TV. Sometimes I just watch it to relax or if I want to see a good horror film. I also liked how a Black man was in charge and not killed in the first 10 mintues.

Top 5 Horror Novels:

  • Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley: I have multiple copies of this book and I taught it to high school seniors for 8 years. I still​ love everything about it and I still find wonderful themes on narcissism, abandonment, hubris, beauty, wealth, misogyny… the list goes on. It is a treasure.
  • The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle: This is a retelling of Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook, his most racist story.  Lavalle takes the story and subverts it. It is simply astounding.
  • The Dark Tower by Stephen King: Most of my horror lands in the weird western subgenre, and this was the first one that not only captured my love for blended genres but presented a gunslinger unlike any I’d seen before. Roland and his ka-tet continues to be my favorite book series ever, but it also produces difficult and horrific situations. Terrible situations and consequences for everyone, Roland included.
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shriley Jackson: As a person who often sees herself as an outsider, this book of two sisters, ostracized from the town, and a tiny bit from each other, showed me that horror didn’t have to be bloody and messy. Human beings are monstrous enough, and the way Kat traps her sister and imprisons her scared me to death. It showed me the dangerous power of love.
  • Minion by LA. Banks: The Vampire Huntress Legend Series was the first time I saw an authentic black woman slayer and I absolutely loved every single minute of this series. It didn’t frighten me so much as entertained me, while also centering blackness, which I loved.

GMM: How do you feel about white-identifying writers who write stories about non-white characters? What problems have you encountered? What potential issues do you see with white-identifying writers telling BIPOC stories? What advice would you give those writers?

NGK: K. Tempest Bledsoe and Nisi Shawl have a fantastic workshop and courses on Writing the Other. If white authors want to diversify the characters in their stories, I encourage them to do so. The potential issues are with not centering the non-white character’s culture as being a part of them. For example, Black characters are not monolithic, there’s diversity with different experiences, rearing, and education. However, there are certain cultural touchstones that aren’t advertised or communicated. I would give writers who are seeking to write the other to do the following: 1) write the character and make them as round as you would your white character. 2) Get two or three sensitivity readers to read over your story (Pay them please. This is labor.). Listen to their feedback and incorporate those changes into your revised story. Non-white authors should note that basing a character on your one BIPOC friend, is still tokenism. Try to expand your social group to a variety of different people to avoid stereotypes, tokenism, and offensive behavior in the story.

GMM: All writers have experienced some form of impostor syndrome. What has your experience with impostor syndrome been like? Did you ever have a particularly bad case of it? If so, what caused it and how did you manage it?

NGK: My imposter syndrome should start paying part of the mortgage! I had a terrible case of it at Blacktasticon in 2018. I was selected to moderate a panel that included Sheree Renee Thomas, Linda Addision, Kenesha Williams, Susana Morris, and an overwhelming number of Black women authors. Linda is a legend. Sheree Renee Thomas is a legend. Susana Morris is an amazing academic professor and author. These are REAL writers.

What the hell did I know about questioning them or leading these leaders in a conversation?! I managed it by writing out the questions with the intention that if they didn’t like it, they would go their own course, and I would let them. LOL! There were 10 people on this panel, and if everyone had a chance to talk, I may not need all the questions. I was prepared to, but I didn’t need to worry. The panel went well.

GMM: Congratulations on being awarded a Diversity Grant from the Horror Writers Association. If you don’t mind me asking, how do you plan to use the grant? What goals do you have in mind?

NGK: Thank you! I plan to use my grant to attend StockerCon for networking possibilities as well as take a MasterClass with Neil Gaiman course to improve my craft.

GMM: How long have you been the editor of Mocha Memoirs Press? Do you prefer editing to writing, or vice versa? How did you get started as an editor? Do you perform and other roles at the press? How can interested writers find out about calls for submission?

NGK: I have been the editor and owner of Mocha Memoirs Press for 11 years. I prefer writing! I got started editing others when I taught English for 18 years in public school. I am the owner of the press so I have assisted in all areas of the business: slush reading, edits, proofreading, formatting, marketing, etc. Interested writers can find the call for submissions at https://mochamemoirspress.com/write-for-us/.

GMM: What about your writing makes it unique within the horror genre? Are there any subjects you’re afraid to write about, or stories you avoid telling?

NGK: My tagline is Strong Heroines. Fantasy Worlds. In the horror genre, I primarily writer weird westerns and as a Black Woman, that is very rare. There are subjects I don’t write stories about and those are slavery, rape, and incest. Those are topics that I don’t find tasteful, and so I don’t write about them. I am aware that horror has a tendency to push the envelope of those things we fear, but those topics fall outside the range of what I want my work to focus on.

Excerpt from A Theft Most Fowl: A Kingdom of Aves Mystery ©2020 Nicole L. Kurtz

The University of Sulidae was the oldest college in Aves. Originally, its location resided in the Audubon Nest, close to Lanham, home of The Order. Political infighting forced the intellectuals to put some distance between themself and those at court. Experience taught them that the closer one got to power, the harder it was to survive. In response, The Order opened an intelligence file on university members. Despite the history of hurt feelings and tensions on both sides, many of those within The Order’s rank traveled and studied at the university’s new location in Sulidae Egg, in Edmonds Nest. It sat on the banks of the Plume River at the apex of the Audubon and Edmonds nests. The campus was its own island in the egg; everything revolved around the university.

Rook Bjorn Renner’s entire life orbited around Sulidae University, most importantly the Museum of the Goddess. As curator, Rook Renner’s true passion to which his entire life was devoted was collecting goddess artifacts. As a renowned expert in all things goddess, he received a consistent stream of requests to verify and validate recently discovered treasures. Over time, his teachings gained more urgency around authenticity.  

Prentice found it strange that a devoted bird like Rook Renner would steal the Five-Feathered Crown. Why now? Why only that artifact? Why not something less obvious? He wouldn’t be able to get birdsong for the relic. No one would take the risk of being caught with it. No one would dare touch the crown for fear of death.

The theft didn’t add up.

Hawk Prentice Tasifa sat on the train speeding from Gould to Sulidae. She picked up Cardinal Wick’s letter and read it again.

Hawk Tasifa-

Your services have been requested in the Sulidae Egg. Arrive within two days and greet Dove Raz Haq. The situation as we know at this time:

1. Missing sacred goddess’s feathered crown.
2. Proposed magical use.
3. Possible suspects: Rook Bjorn Renner

The truth is light. Bring it forth as hawks see what is unseen.

Peace,
Cardinal Wick

She rolled the parchment up again.

Someone did break into the museum and they stole the Five-Feathered Crown. In the ensuing massive manhunt, the eagles who served as security for all eggs, searched but came up empty. Request for assistance from the public produced nothing, according to the reports. No doubt, Rook Renner was frantic with worry and he stood accused of stealing it himself.

Prentice sipped her tea as ideas formulated in her mind. Drinking Earl Grey became a simple pleasure among the stickiness of investigative work. The ancient cogwheel train raced across the rails, and it gently rocked as it chugged its way through the Edmonds Nest. She’d left the Bailey’s rolling hills and the Adams Mountains with their snow-capped tips. They grew smaller in the distance along with Bailey Egg’s red-roofed buildings.

Now, two days later, she meandered along the Adams River. She missed Gould, and if the circumstances changed, she’d return again, but not for work.

Ahead, Sulidae Egg appeared. Prentice had the sleeping car to herself, an ornately decorated car whose features included carved, wood paneling, pressed metal ceiling, frosted glass, lamp oils and a night seat which folded down for a bed. Over the last couple of days, the car had started to feel like home. She sat in the small, overstuffed chair and removed her notepad.

When not on an active investigation, Prentice wore casual clothing; her dark wings identified her as a hawk no matter what she wore. Today she had chosen a sapphire headdress which bore silver embroidered wings and matched her frock. A silver, satin scarf draped from her neck across her left shoulder. She put away the boots in exchange for flat, closed-toe sandals. Sulidae lay in the Edmonds Nest, just southwest of Lanham. The weather remained warm throughout the year due to the Avian Sea currents. She dressed accordingly, but only by chance. Unable to return home from her last assignment for a change of clothes, Prentice happened to have packed cooler clothing.

Her thoughts turned to Rook Renner. No doubt, the rook sowed the seeds of his own demise with his erratic behavior.

The train bumped over the railroad tracks as it slowed into Lizard Mountain Train Station, with the setting sun. A whistle announced their arrival and Prentice disembarked with her luggage and satchel. As soon as the heat hit her, she missed the cool mountains of Gould. Along the platform, coachmen carried signs advertising their services. She secured one and found herself quickly seated in a carriage, her luggage bags secured outside in the rear, her driver holding the reins in front. Two beautiful horses pulled them away from the train station and into the waiting night.

In what seemed like no time, she reached campus. Being early suppertime, the egg bustled with life. Students clutched heavy satchels and walked or bicycled through the streets. People clustered together in casual conversations at outdoor cafes, illuminated by votive candles. Pedestrians hiked alongside cyclists with ease in a practiced rhythm.

In the hushed carriage interior, Prentice embraced the nostalgia rushing over her. She hadn’t been here in years, not since graduation. Outside the carriage window, the Plume River glistened as it snaked its way through the egg. A clear sky put the constellations on display, and she warmed at the memory of nights spent in Rook Ioan’s astronomy class, charting and memorizing the heavens, gazing through telescopes, and listening to how they came to be. A hawk was never lost as long as they had the sky.

“We’re here.” The coachman wrenched open the door and disappeared around to the carriage’s rear. He clambered up the short ladder and threw down her luggage bags. They smacked the ground.

“By the goddess, be careful!” Prentice bellowed as she exited. Vultures!

The coachman came back around with said baggage stuffed under both arms. He glared at her as he placed the bags beside her. His tight, grayish skin bore thin scars. The bright scarlet birthmark across his sharp nose drew attention away from his dark beady eyes.

“Thank you.” Prentice took five birdsongs from her leather punch. She dropped the copper coin with the five emblazed on the tail and the goddess’s likeness on the front into the coachman’s gloved hand.

“Evening.” The man bowed, his face softened by the tip, before leaping up to the driver’s seat. His agility surprised her; his girth didn’t hinder his movements at all.

She turned her attention to the pristine cathedral that consumed the center entrance of the university campus. The air was heavy with the fragrance of frankincense and sage. A cobblestoned maze of dark corridors threaded through the grounds and connected the buildings. Dark hallways stretched out in a monolithic maze of nooks and crannies, making it impossible to take in the enormity of the university at a glance.

Ahead, a figure approached through the growing dark. Brightly colored lanterns illuminated the square and entranceway. She could make out the red turban atop a head. A sudden strong wind billowed his dark robes. Prentice didn’t need her hawk abilities to recognize Rook Renner. Her jaw tightened as he advanced.

Once the wizened old man reached her, he wasted no time embracing her.

“Hoot, Prentice.” Renner pulled her close.

His voice was stronger than Prentice expected.

She returned his hug but pulled back. “Hoot, Rook! How are you here? Shouldn’t you be in a cell?”

Rook Renner’s jovial face held bemusement. He didn’t seem distraught. “It would seem my rapidly eroding reputation has kept that action at bay.”

His rawboned features, decorated with broad red lines beneath each eye and a vertical one from his forehead down to his chin, disappeared beneath a bushy white beard.

“Come. I’m glad you’re here.” He clasped her hand in his bony one. The soft flesh palm spoke to the rook never doing physical labor in his life.

“Me too.” She meant it.

He motioned ahead. “I’ve had a small instructor apartment set up for you.”

Prentice took back her hand. “An apartment? Rook, you know I’m here to investigate you and the theft…”

She trailed off. A quiver filtered through her feathers.

Rook Renner raised his hand. The silver rings he wore caught the pale moonlight as he held his hand up to silence her.

“I’m aware. It’s a studio, nothing luxurious. The Order cannot say I attempted to bribe you. My status may not be what it once was at court, but I’m greatly injured at this intrusion. The sooner we get this resolved, the sooner I can get back to my work.”

“Rook…” Prentice’s cheeks warmed at his words.

But she didn’t travel here to rekindle their student-instructor relationship. She’d been assigned to this case and she had a job to do.

See the unseen.

She adjusted her satchel across her torso and then hoisted her luggage.

“Lead the way.” Rook Renner smiled. “Follow me.”

Do you have a fiction fragment? How about your friends? Would you like to recommend someone to me aside from yourself? Drop me a line at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Guidelines: Submit 500-1000 words of fiction, up to 5 poems, a short bio, and a recent author photo to the e-mail above.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Lucifer

I have a confession to make. I love Lucifer. To some, this will come as no surprise, since many of my friends already know that I have a fondness for darkness. But I’m only drawn to it if there is a spark of light shining in that darkness. The promise of redemption. Evil, while intriguing, usually leaves a bad taste in my mouth — actually, it makes my guts churn and fills me with dread. True Evil (notice the capital E) is something I hope to never have to confront face-to-face. Just because someone has a reputation for being monstrous, doesn’t automatically make them Evil. Especially if they’ve been misrepresented since the beginning of time. Lucifer is only mentioned a few times in the Bible, but talk about a reputation. People have been blaming him for all the e(E)vil in the world since he made his fabled fall from Grace. Well, him and that bitch Eve.

Critical-Thinking

I recently finished watching the first season of Lucifer. Twice. Initially I was skeptical. I mean Lucifer is one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented fictional characters of all time. Yes, that’s right, I said fictional character. In fact, this particular character made his first appearance in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics in the late 1980’s. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there (cough, cough, Christians) who will read this and be angry that I’m referring to Lucifer (Satan, the Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Lord of Lies, or whatever you’re most comfortable calling him) as a fictional character. But here’s the thing, I’m not a Christian. I’m not an atheist either. I believe in something, but I’m not exactly down with the concept of one all-powerful creator, especially not one as temperamental as the Judaeo-Christian god. If we’re to believe all the promises of damnation and hellfire, there’s no pleasing that guy. If Hell does exist, I’ll probably end up there. Not because I’m an inherently bad or cruel person, but I tend to question everything. Including the word of God. I’m an educated uppity Negro who believes in self-determinism and indulging in hedonistic pleasures. And, since the first overly judgmental Christian pointed a finger in my direction and deemed me a heathen, I’ve had a special place for Lucifer in my heart.

Tom Ellis as Lucifer with Wings

Is it just me, or did it get hot as Hell in here?

Sympathy for the Devil: Lucifer Morningstar

Before I start talking about my new TV boyfriend, Lucifer Morningstar, I’d like to talk a little bit about the mythical origins of Lucifer and why I – as well as many other people – find him so fascinating, and yes, deserving of our sympathy.

“But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?” – Mark Twain

Talk about a tragic character. He’s the original scapegoat. In his fascinating book, The Devil: A Biography, Peter Stanford looks at the role the Devil has played in shaping how people view evil and how our perception of evil has evolved over time.

In the modern mind it [evil] is located within each individual — what Jung called our “shadow.” Historically, the tendency was to place it [evil] outside — on the Devil, who exploited a weakness in the human makeup. Of the two placements, the contemporary option is harder to deal with since it imposes a responsibility on each and every individual. The traditional route, while emphasizing that God gave each man and woman free will — the capacity to choose right or wrong — did have the bonus of off-loading some of the burden onto an external force. That is why the Devil still attracts a following. He represents the easy option when we are confronted with evil. (6-7)

All of the world’s sins are blamed on him, and he must forever carry the burden of punishing the wicked – or anyone who doesn’t follow God’s commandments. Once one of God’s favorite angels, Lucifer was cast into Hell after refusing to follow God’s word to the last letter. Pride was his downfall. He exercised his free will and challenged his father’s authority. He rebelled.

12How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Isaiah 14:12-14 (King James Version)

Free-Will

As a teenager, I developed an interest in Lucifer’s story even though I didn’t attend church. Maybe because I didn’t attend church. I drew parallels between his banishment to Hell and the punishment my friends received for expressing themselves honestly. I had friends who were kicked out of their houses because they could no longer conform to the expectations their families had established for them. I don’t know about you, but when I was a teen I rebelled. Most of us do. I dressed all in black (wait, I still do that), wore makeup that made me look dead, experimented with drugs, climbed into cars with strangers, flirted with married men, rode on the backs of motorcycles under the stars past midnight, made out with boys in leather jackets, read vintage smut and other banned books, watched lots of inappropriate foreign films, listened to loud rock and roll (1950’s – present), wrote poetry about killing people I hated, daydreamed of becoming a vampire or succubus, partied with drag queens, played with Ouija boards, read Tarot cards, and hung out with juvenile delinquents. Sounds fun, right? There were plenty of people willing to lead me down the primrose path. Oddly enough, none of them were Satan. No matter how badly they wanted to be.

Cheerleaders

Just to piss people off, or fuck with their heads, my friends and I declared an alliance with Satan and all things considered evil by mainstream culture. We’d shout, “Hail Satan!” and then giggle like schoolgirls. Because we were schoolgirls. Schoolgirls with a very dark sense of humor who were bored with mainstream ideals of good and evil. Let me tell you, we had a great time. If we had done any of those things prior to the latter part of the 20th century, we would have been labeled as witches (in some cases we were) and punished severely. None of us really made a pact with Satan, despite what some of our classmates and teachers thought. Being accused of practicing witchcraft and worshipping Satan only made us laugh, and oddly enough gave us a certain amount of power, independence, and individual voices. Wearing black lipstick to high school doesn’t make you a witch or Satan worshipper. It makes you a scapegoat. But if you stand up for yourself, speak up for your rights to wear whatever you want, and the rights of others to be different, that makes you a strong teen girl. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was becoming a black lipstick wearing feminist. An uppity Satan-loving Goth Negro.

Eartha Kitt as Cat-Woman

Role model.

It wasn’t always easy to wake up in the morning and be myself. Some days it was fucking horrible. Knowing that about myself, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for Lucifer’s plight. I knew what it meant to be misunderstood, and feared or hated for being different. People shouted at my mother from a passing car when we walked down the street, “Nigger lover!”, because she was holding my hand. I was five. If there is a Hell, I hope every evil racist asshole who ever made me and my mom and dad feel afraid or feel bad about ourselves goes straight there and suffers the punishments of the damned for all eternity.

Aside from the fact that people treated my family like shit because we were ethnically mixed, I was always too heavy (fat), didn’t wear the right clothes (poor), liked to read for fun (nerd), talked too much (behavioral problems), and collected Star Wars figurines (um, those are for boys). I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point I decided, maybe not even consciously at first, that if people were going to see and treat me differently anyway, I might as well give them something interesting to look at.

New-Black

I wish I knew the exact moment when the light bulb in my brain switched to black light and I decided to give conformity the finger. I like to imagine I was born that way, but a very specific chain of events occurred to make me think it was perfectly acceptable for a seventeen-year-old girl to smoke pot in her bedroom and listen to the Velvet Underground while lying in bed with her older punk rock boyfriend.

Smoking-Crack-Satan

Before I fell under Tom Ellis’s spell as Lucifer, there were a few other devils who captured my heart (and mind) in film and television. He’s in good company. Although technically I’m talking about the same character, the way that different people portray and/or write about him makes this character fresh each time we encounter him in fiction. A purely evil Satan wouldn’t interest me, but a complex character who finds humor in our misery, can make fun of himself, and shed light onto the human condition in a way most of us can relate to, can provide hours of entertainment for me. He’s the ultimate antagonist who can inspire fear or sympathy, and more often than not, lust.

Hot-Lucifer

Sweet Baby Jesus!

In 1987 I went to the movie theater to see a film starring Lisa Bonet (Epiphany Proudfoot), Mickey Rourke (Harry Angel), and Robert De Niro (Louis Cypher). I wanted to see Angel Heart for two reasons: 1) it was set in New Orleans, and thanks to Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, I had developed an infatuation with the city, which would eventually become a life-long love affair, and 2) I wanted to see an interracial couple having sex on screen. I may never be as tall and thin as Lisa Bonet, but at age 15 I viewed her as the closest physical representation I could see of myself on TV and in movies. And, she was starring in a movie about voodoo set in New Orleans having completely inappropriate blood-drenched sex with an older white man who is running from the devil. Seriously? The only thing that could have made this movie any better for me as a teen would be for her to somehow turn into a vampire. But hey, she’s a mambo, so I can’t complain. I would LOVE to talk about the intersectionality of racial, gender, and sexual politics in Angel Heart. And, someday I will. Today is not that day.

Today I’m talking about Lucifer, and in this particular case, Louis Cypher (say it aloud in a French accent). If you ever have a chance to pick up the novel this film is adapted from, Falling Angel (1978), by William Hjortsberg, you will be amused by how many parodies of Lucifer’s name one author can think up. And, it’s a great story.

Cover Art for Falling Angel

1996 Mass Market Cover

Robert De Niro’s Lucifer is handsome, charming, well-groomed, wears expensive suits, has a taste for unusual jewelry, manicures his nails into pristine points, and has the air of a mysterious European aristocrat. He’s also spooky and sexy, which is always a great combination of personality traits in my book. Louis Cypher hires a law firm, Macintosh and Winesap (get it?), to hire a private investigator, Harry Angel, to find a missing person. If you’ve never seen Angel Heart, shame on you. But just in case, I’ll be nice and won’t spoil it for you.

Louis-Cypher

‘Mephistopheles’ is such a mouthful in Manhattan, Johnny.

Needless to say, I love this film. I’ve owned various copies between 1987 and the present, and I come back to it from time to time when I need a pick me up. That’s right, devil-themed suspense films about voodoo cheer me up. What’s it to ya’?

De Niro’s Lucifer is a tough act to follow. He has so many quotable lines, and you can see he is clearly having fun in this role. I always liked Robert De Niro’s work, but this role gave him a whole new depth that made me fall a little bit in love with him. It was a long time before I saw another Devil quite so appealing.

One of the most lust-inspiring, yet unsettling portrayals of Lucifer is Viggo Mortensen’s in The Prophecy (1995). When I discovered this gem of a film I watched it over and over. I made my friends watch it with me over and over. It’s dark, it’s funny, it delves into the age old debate over good and evil, we see glimpses of the war in Heaven, Christopher Walken plays the archangel Gabriel and Viggo Mortensen is Lucifer. What’s not to like?

Viggo

Humans…and how I love you talking monkeys for this…know more about war and treachery of the spirit than any angel.

Mortensen, dressed in a black cassock like a priest and wearing black nail polish, is somehow simultaneously aloof, bored, insightful, petulant, mean, creepy and sensual. He’s attractive, yet repulsive, like a big piece of decadent dark chocolate cake dusted with arsenic. You’ll probably take a bite even though you know you’ll regret it later. He’s beautifully monstrous.

He inspires fear in the people who cross his path in the film, until his mantle of power and control slips and we are shown his desperation, a peek at his loneliness, cravenness, as he threatens to take the two main characters back to Hell with him. As we see the motivation behind his threats to drag them to Hell, his threats seem more like the pathetic attempts of a lonely drunk at last call looking for someone to go home with him. Physically appealing, but loathsome. Pitiful. But not exactly Evil.

Viggo was my favorite Lucifer until I met Peter Stormare’s Lucifer in Constantine (2005).

Constantine – Lucifer

Seriously, Stormare’s Lucifer is super fucking cool and spooky. When he shows up dressed in all white to collect John Constantine’s soul — in person — it’s like the Godfather showing up to collect an unpaid debt. Rather than ascending from Hell as we might expect, he enters this realm descending from an unseen portal above. His bare feet and the cuffs of his white suit are stained with something that looks a lot like tar. His eyes are red-rimmed, like he hasn’t slept in a very long time. Managing Hell is a full-time job after all. It’s open 24/7.

Stormare

Sonny, I’ve got a whole theme park full of red delights for you.

Aside from Tilda Swinton as Gabriel, Peter Stormare’s Lucifer is one of the best things Constantine has to offer. Actually, his portrayal of the Devil is one of the best I’ve seen and it invariably makes it onto top ten lists of all time best Devils in films. Ironically, the only bad casting choice in this film was Keanu Reeves as John Constantine.

After Stormare’s, my favorite Lucifer became Mark Pellegrino’s on Supernatural. Pellegrino first appeared as Nick/Lucifer in the 2009 episode, “Sympathy for the Devil,” in which a man with a tormented past, consumed by grief, with apparently nothing left to lose or live for, accepts a demon’s offer to become the vessel of Lucifer. That’s not an easy gig. Especially if you aren’t genetically predisposed to contain the soul of a deity. Nick is only a temporary skin suit, and we soon learn that Lucifer really has his sights set on Sam Winchester.

Supernatural-5x19-Hammer-of-the-gods-mark-pellegrino-16732609-1280-720

Michael turned on me. Called me a freak. A monster. And then he beat me down. All because I was different. Because I had a mind of my own.

Pellegrino’s Lucifer is a bit more complex than the previous ones I’ve mentioned. He’s an emotionally disturbed fallen angel who will never get over being banished to Hell by his father. The way he sees it, his family abandoned him and the psychological aftermath has made him into a sarcastic, spiteful, jealous asshole seeking vengeance in the form of world annihilation. He believes the only thing that will make him feel better is to start the Apocalypse. He hates humanity and wishes to destroy it to spite his father. Some angels support his efforts, while others think he’s acting like a spoiled jerk.

Gabriel

Don’t hold back, Gabriel, tell us how you really feel.

Like I said, Lucifer’s soul is slowly eroding his vessel (Nick) and is looking to take up permanent residence inside Sam’s skin. So, he tortures Sam psychologically by making himself invisible except to Sam in the hopes of driving him insane. Hilarity ensues.

Sam-Lucifer

Resting Bitch Face Championship Finale

I like Pellegrino’s Lucifer because he is hilarious, but also because when he explains why he does the things he does, no matter how atrocious, he’s very convincing. Does this Lucifer have any hope of redemption? Possibly, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Just because I agree with some of his arguments doesn’t mean I would blindly follow him to Hell. When it comes to charismatic figures, I reserve a certain amount disbelief. I’ve been lead down the primrose path by attractive men with compelling stories more often than I’d like to admit. It’s alluring and exciting for a while, but eventually the emotional roller coaster stops being fun. Especially if your sweetheart has apocalyptic aspirations.

Like I said, pulling off this character isn’t easy. If he’s portrayed as being nothing more than mindless evil, I’m not only bored, but insulted. If he’s portrayed as a simpering, child-like man who throws temper tantrums because he doesn’t get his way, then I’m probably only going to keep watching for the spectacle. Most people fail at portraying Lucifer, because they don’t fully grasp or appreciate his complexity. Tom Ellis is not one of those people.

Admittedly, even if he wasn’t hilarious, tall, dark and handsome, seductive, sensitive, sexy, well-dressed, sarcastic, and  yes, at times scary, the fact that he’s a bit geeky in an overly-educated way and has a British accent would have been enough to capture my attention. I mean, for Christ’s sake, look at him! I know what I’m about to say may offend some Whovians, but I don’t care. I think this man would make a fine Doctor. There. I said it. I’m not taking it back. I’d love to see him traveling through time and space in a blue Police Box…with a young woman of color as his companion…and at least one episode with  Captain Jack Harkness. Look, you have your fantasies about the Doctor, and I have mine.

Holy-Lucifer

Jesus, Mary, and Lucifer.

When we first meet this Lucifer, he seems pretty shallow. A rich handsome playboy driving an expensive car who buys his way out of bad situations. He owns a club in LA and has a reputation of being a ladies man. Initially, I wasn’t impressed.

Lucifer-Car

Yeah. Not feeling it.

Not until he began interacting with people and we had a chance to explore how he manages his relationships with them. Through certain relationships he begins to grow emotionally and each episode we see a little deeper into his soul. His personality is what makes him so fucking attractive. He’s taking a vacation from Hell, but the longer he stays on Earth and builds more friendships, he has even less of a desire to return to his job of torturing the damned. His allure is in his vulnerability, which he tries to hide and deny. Not only because he needs to maintain his reputation, but because he is afraid of this transformation and doesn’t understand it.

Lucifer-Hurt

Totally feeling it.

Over the course of the first season, Lucifer develops feelings for a police detective, Chloe Decker, and she develops feelings for him. Feelings he doesn’t understand, because he’s never felt that way about a woman. Aside from his confusion about his emotional state, their relationship is complicated by a long list of reasons why they can’t and probably shouldn’t become more than friends. They have some really heavy emotional scenes together, and each time they get a little closer, one of them pulls back out of fear.

In fact, he’s so freaked out about these new and confusing feelings, that he starts…seeing a therapist. I’ll give you three guesses to figure out how he pays for her services.

Although Lucifer is enjoying his time on Earth, there are a few people who really wish he’d go back to Hell.

Lucifer-Mazikeen

Even the Devil needs a BFF.

Mazikeen, or Maze, is a demon who has faithfully followed Lucifer since his fall from Grace. She’s his friend, sometime lover, bodyguard, and assassin. She’s having a good time on Earth, too. Well, most of the time. But as she sees him changing, becoming more sensitive to the plight of humanity, she advocates for returning to Hell so he can become his old devilish self again. His emotional attachments to humans terrify her, and yeah, makes her jealous.

But, the one character who pushes him to return to his duties of punishing the damned more than any other is his brother, Amenadiel, the archangel.

1x07-Wingman-Lucifer-and-Amenadiel-lucifer-fox-39369604-1500-1034

That is one good-looking family.

Despite Lucifer’s openness about being the Devil, the detective, Chloe, refuses to accept that he isn’t just an eccentric and overly-dramatic, but well-meaning nutcase. However, there are a few things she witnesses that make her question who he really is. But, like most sane and practical people, she keeps denying the proof that he’s telling the truth.

Chloe-Lucifer-Wings

Ironically, her daughter has no trouble believing he is who he says who he is.

Like-the-Devil

While this Lucifer is fun-loving, cynical, charming, likes to help people he cares about, and…I said sexy, didn’t I?…you still shouldn’t piss him off. Especially when it comes to people or things he’s emotionally attached to.

Lucifer-Taking-Back-Wings

Yeah, I’m absolutely smitten with Tom Ellis’s Lucifer. He’s everything I’m looking for in a convincing Devil. Smart, funny, emotionally damaged, but open to growth, and I said tall, dark and handsome, right? His body was made for suits (or nakedness), and his accent sends shivers through me.

Naked

Let’s make a deal.

If you haven’t watched the first season, treat yourself. Honestly, I’m probably going to watch it again. I’ll be fantasizing about Tom Ellis with a sonic screwdriver in his hand, and contemplating the fate of my immortal soul.

Soul

See you in Hell!