Our Lady Of The Shadows
Won't you spare me over til another year
My mother came to my bed
Placed a cold towel upon my head
My head is warm my feet are cold
Death is a-movin upon my soul
-O Death (traditional Appalachian dirge)
In a gated strip mall in Los Angeles just south of Macarthur Park, tucked in between a Chinese fast food restaurant and a coin-op laundromat, sits a shrine to a thing that has many names. She's prayed to as a savior of the poor and downtrodden, as a spirit of vengeance, as a great leveler of the weak and the strong.
She is the patron saint of drug runners and murderers. Her image is tattooed on the chests of narcotrafficantes and offerings are made to her by desperate mothers on behalf of their gunshot children.
She is alternately Señora Blanca and Señora Negra. She is the Holy Girl, the Skinny Girl. She is Señora de las Sombras, Our Lady Of The Shadows.
She is Santa Muerte.
As a writer there's an allure to playing around with the paranormal. We get to raise demons and consort with vampires. We can mix it up with damn near anything and twist it to suit our needs. It's a spice that can be as light or heavy-handed as we like.
Romance has embraced the paranormal in all its blood-soaked (and sometimes sparkly) glory. It's done wonders for the Western like THE SIXTH GUN, and even the Post-Apocalyptic - if you haven't read Joe Lansdale's ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE CADILLAC DESERT WITH DEAD FOLKS you are missing out.
I write a lot of crime, hard-boiled and noir in particular. Paranormal noir is a favorite of mine. Richard Kadrey's SANDMAN SLIM and Charlie Huston's ALREADY DEAD are fantastic.
But what about the real thing? What happens when noir and the paranormal get mixed up in the real world?
That's when you get Santa Muerte.
Santa Muerte, Saint Death, appears as a skeleton in a wedding dress, a dark reflection of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She holds a scythe in one hand and either a pair of scales or a globe of the world in the other. She is Death, and death is everywhere.
Santa Muerte is a mash-up goddess that mixes up pre-Columbian religions with Catholicism. After all, conquered people don't give up their gods easy, and she's no exception. Originally she was (probably - there's some debate) Mictecacíhuatl, the Queen of Mictlan, the Aztec Land of The Dead.
Unlike the Virgin of Guadalupe (whose name originated from the Nahuatl word Coatlalopeuh, which sounds like Guadalupe but means Snake Stomper, or something), or many of the Voodoo Loa like Maman Brigitte (Saint Brigid), Santa Muerte has not been linked with another Catholic icon. Santa Muerte is Santa Muerte. Period.
She has, in fact, been actively denounced by the Catholic church. Makes sense. As church types go she's not exactly what you would call "on message".
That's where the noir bit comes in. See, she's the one you go to when you want things done that other saints aren't going to give you. A journey free of cops to drop off that load of meth across the border in Laredo. A safe stint in prison where you won't get shanked in the exercise yard. Vengeance on the man who shot your husband.
She doesn't offer salvation. She is Death and nothing more.
But at the same time there's a certain brutal honesty to her. She levels the playing field. The strong and the weak will both succumb. You, your friends, your family, and most importantly, your enemies will all die. What comes after, well, that's not her problem, that's yours.
She offers a message that her two million plus followers, people who are living with gunfights in the streets and decapitations at nightclubs, can relate to. A death goddess revered by the narcotrafficantes, who say their prayers while they cut off their victims' heads. She is a goddess for a modern, violent era, where life is cheaper than heroin.
I don't know about you but that sounds pretty goddamn noir to me.
About City of the Lost
City of the LostDAW, January 3, 2012
Trade Paperback, 224 pages
Cover and illustrations by Sean Philips
Joe Sunday’s dead.
He just hasn’t stopped moving yet.
Sunday’s a thug, an enforcer, a leg-breaker for hire. When his boss sends him to kill a mysterious new business partner, his target strikes back in ways Sunday could never have imagined. Murdered, brought back to a twisted half-life, Sunday finds himself stuck in the middle of a race to find an ancient stone with the power to grant immortality. With it, he might live forever. Without it, he’s just another rotting extra in a George Romero flick.
Everyone’s got a stake, from a psycho Nazi wizard and a razor-toothed midget, to a nympho-demon bartender, a too-powerful witch who just wants to help her homeless vampires, and the one woman who might have all the answers — if only Sunday can figure out what her angle is.
Before the week is out he’s going to find out just what lengths people will go to for immortality. And just how long somebody can hold a grudge.
His first novel, a dark urban fantasy titled CITY OF THE LOST will be coming out January 3rd, 2012 through DAW Books and will be available at all the fashionable bookstores. Hopefully some of the seedier ones, too. He would, after all, like to buy a copy.
His short stories and poetry have appeared in magazines like Plots With Guns, Needle, Spinetingler, and Thrilling Detective, as well as the anthologies UNCAGE ME and DEADLY TREATS.
Despite evidence to the contrary, he does not have rabies.