Friday, February 13, 2015

Grimm Mistresses: S. R. Cambridge

Today we have the second of our Grimm Mistresses series of posts. Please welcome S. R. Cambridge as we delve into the tricky task of making deals with the devil and shape shifters.

1. What inspired your story?
My Grimm Mistresses story, “The Leopard’s Pelt,” is based on one of the lesser-known fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, “Bearskin.” The original tale is fairly dark. The short version of “Bearskin” is that a young man, usually a soldier, encounters the devil and makes a bargain with him. The young man agrees to wear a bear’s pelt and never wash or groom himself for seven years, and if he makes it through, he’ll have riches unimaginable. The bear’s pelt gives out unlimited money. But if he fails or dies during the seven years, the devil will get his soul. (I think the devil really could have made it simpler, honestly.)

Partway through the seven years, by which time the young man is fairly gross, the young man meets a gentleman (an innkeeper or a farmer) and helps him out, and in return, the gentleman tells the young man he will give him one of his three daughters for a bride. The oldest daughters spurn him because’s he’s terrifying and disgusting, but the youngest agrees to marry him and he gives her half a ring.

When his deal with the devil is complete, the young man gets cleaned up and returns to his bride as a rich young gentleman. She doesn’t know him at first, and her sisters get dressed up, since they’re excited about this new prospect. The little sister then recognizes him by his ring. When the older sisters see him and realize what they gave up, they kill themselves out of rage and envy. The devil is pleased at this turn of events, for he’s received two souls for the price of one.

My story doesn’t have men bartering off their daughters or sisters so foolish as to commit suicide over not snagging a man, but I’ve tried to be faithful to the general plot and tone of the original fairy tale. In my story, the young man is a poor sailor lost during World War II, and it’s meant to be a bit vague whether his deal with the devil is real, or a result of PTSD (which was an unnamed and poorly understood thing at that time). The young bride is a bookish student, and the older sisters hopefully aren’t so shallow, but nonetheless might, in the end, find their souls in peril.

2. As a woman in horror, do you find any added pressure?
Not yet! I’d like to believe that gender is mattering less, though I suppose we’re not totally there.

3. Name three things on your desk right now.
A stack of unopened mail, a dying orchid (I’m a notorious plant-murderer) and a fat, happy cat.

4. Who are some writers that have influenced your work?
It’s hard to pick one, because I read very widely, and I think I’m influenced a tiny bit by everything I read. My favourite author of all time is Margaret Atwood. She is just a stone-cold boss, and her writing is so wonderful. In the context of fairy tales, I love Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, which is a collection of beautiful shorts inspired by fairy tales: just as dark as the originals, but rather more focused on the female characters, and their agency.

5. Tell us what your future plans are? Any novels in the works?
I always have stuff on the go and I’m hoping to publish more in 2015. I have another story coming out in another anthology, Ragnarok Publications’ Blackguards, a bit later this year. It’s called “The Bety├ír and the Magus” and it’s set in an alternate, 19-century Hungary.

6. If I were your favorite dessert what would I be?
A butter tart. Butter tarts are a Canadian thing. Basically, they’re baked tarts filled with butter, sugar, egg and syrup. They are terrible for you, and they are glorious.

7. What would  you tell writers new to the horror genre?
I’m no veteran, so all I can say is keep writing. It’s like any other skill, in that the doing is what makes you better and better at it. Sometimes I’ll look at things I wrote a long time ago and think, Well, that’s a load of hot garbage, but you learn from writing bad things, and nothing is completely unsalveagable.

8. Plotter or pantster?
Plotter. I’m hopelessly nerdy that way, and I do research quite a bit, especially when writing something set in the past. Without the Internet, in particular Wikipedia, I’d be lost. I can’t deal with having anachronisms!

And one morning at the pond, as he knelt down to fill his canteen like he always did, his joints popping like an old man’s, his head bent toward the water, he was suffused with the sense that he was no longer alone.
Henry looked up, and she was there. A leopard, skinny but sinuous, built for violence. Her golden eyes fixed on him. He froze. He had not heard the trees rustling at the leopard’s approach, or her paws squelching on the muddy ground, but yet here she was, as though she had appeared from nowhere.
Henry knew, right away, that the leopard was a she. He knew, too, that she was what had been watching him, what had fed on that skeleton until every scrap of meat on it was gone. He expected her eyes to be filled with feral cruelty, but instead they were calm and knowing. The leopard bent to the pond, her long pink tongue lapping up the water.
“You don’t mean to eat me?” Henry asked. He had not spoken aloud for so long, and he shuddered at the sound of himself: so different, growly and rusty. Don’t be slow, he thought. She can’t understand you.
            But the leopard peered up at him. Her tail swished back and forth as though she were pondering his question. She stepped forward, and Henry’s hand went to his knife. It was a short-bladed thing, more suited for spearing bits of food than sparring with big cats, but it was better than nothing. He held it out at her, his hand shaking.
            The leopard gazed at the knife, unblinking, and then Henry heard, You show me your weapon, yet it is you who have come here, and eaten from my trees, and slaked your thirst with my water, and made your bed upon my sand.
            It wasn’t that the leopard had spoken. It was that Henry heard a voice, her voice, in his head, like a thought that wasn’t his own but had wormed its way into his brain nonetheless. The leopard had a sweet, knowledgeable voice, not unlike Miss Baker’s voice when she got to a good part in a story. “I’m hallucinating,” Henry croaked. This is it, Lowery. You’ve lost it.
            The leopard was still, but, again, Henry heard, You have come here, and eaten from my trees, and slaked your thirst with my water, and made your bed upon my sand.
            “I didn’t come here on purpose,” Henry whispered. Oh, his head hurt, as though someone had taken a bat to his skull. He couldn’t think. “If you’re going to eat me, sweetheart, don’t give me a speech first.”
            You would taste of death. The leopard licked her paw, flicking her tongue around her claws. She did not move her eyes from his. The other tasted of death. All of you taste of death.

BIO: S.R. Cambridge is a lawyer and writer living in Toronto, Ontario. Apart from her fiction, her biggest claim to fame is losing on Jeopardy! You can also read her work in Ragnarok Publications' anthology Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries and Roguesand follow her on Twitter (

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