When S. T. Joshi invited me to write a story for an anthology of dream-based weird fiction, I jumped at the chance. Not only because it was nice to break away from the Lovecraftian weird that was already past its due date in terms of freshness, but because writing fiction about dreams seemed right up my alley.
So, I wrote “The Fifth Stone” for NIGHTMARE’S REALM (Dark Regions, 2017) and sent it over to a great response.
Theme anthologies are funny things: the editor wants stories that fit in a specific box, but what readers respond to most are stories that surprise them. How can a reader be surprised about a vampire in a story published in a vampire anthology? Similarly, in writing a story about dreams, one can’t make the story turn on the presence of said dream. It needs to be approached in a different way. In “The Fifth Stone”, I chose to approach dream not from the typical angle of slumber, but instead through epileptic seizure. I think (and hope) this presents something different from what the reader expects.
I’d also wanted to tell a story with scope. Most of my stories take place over the course of a few hours or days, but I’ve always been enamoured by those that extend over a lifetime, and wanted to take a stab at it myself. And, as the starting point, I used the text of a short exercise I’d written once that I loved but was languishing in a folder of other ideas. It’s one of the reasons I continue to noodle around with experiments and exercises—because one never knows how useful they might be later.
Finally, the title is inspired by what may be my favourite short story title of all time: L. P. Hartley’s “The Third Grave”. Even now, typing it, it evokes so many story ideas in me. One day, I may even write one of them down.
I wrote “Scraps of Paper”, published last year in POSTSCRIPTS 34/35: BREAKOUT (PS Publishing, 2015), for another anthology, but I realized pretty quickly it wasn’t the right fit there. Frankly, I wasn’t sure where it would have been the right fit. Sort of horror, sort of noir, sort of urban fantasy, it seemed a little bit of everything, but not enough of anything for a good home. So, I did what anyone does when they have a hard-to-place spec-fic story: they turn to Postscripts. Pete Crowther took it immediately. Then, as far as I can tell, immediately forgot he had it. So it sat, waiting for its day in the sun for a couple of years, until finally someone remembered it. Which is lucky as it seems Postscripts has since shut its doors for the foreseeable future.
“Scraps of Paper” is another in the series of Owen Rake stories I’ve written, a series that I enjoy immensely even if it seems readers are generally ambivalent to his escapades (at least, based on the dearth of feedback I get regarding them). In this adventure, Owen encounters what is, in essence, a Golem, and who is introduced in a manner befitting a large creature of the night: charging forth with police officers falling off him. This image is not one that occurred to me out of thin air, but instead from an episode of the television program, “COPS”, once a guilty pleasure for me. The scene of the naked suspect fleeing, much as Grommell does here, was pressed into my brain, waiting for a story to one day set it free, unleashing it back into the world. One never knows what bits of information will one day form the spark of a story, which is why it’s strongly recommended aspiring writers explore the world as much as possible; one needs to fill the well with as many interesting things and experiences as possible.
This year, despite being one of the most horrible in recent memory in many ways, saw the release of some great fiction. I read a few memorable novels, including Paul Tremblay ’s terrific DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK, Robert Marasco’s unsettling BURNT OFFERINGS, and William Sloane’s chilling TO WALK THE NIGHT; but I also found some great collections in Richard Gavin’s powerful SYLVAN DREAD, Lynda E. Rucker’s haunting YOU’LL KNOW WHEN YOU GET THERE, Livia Llewellyn’s disturbing FURNACE, Jeffrey Ford’s wonderful A NATURAL HISTORY OF HELL, D.P. Watt’s strange ALMOST INSENTIENT, ALMOST DIVINE, Joyce Carol Oates’s discomforting HAUNTED, and Jon Padgett’s nightmarish THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM. Included in one of those two categories above (though I’m not sure which) was Peter Straub’s fantastic fragment PERDIDO, which is so purely Straubian that I’m torn as to whether I wish it were finished or whether it should remain untouched and as perfect as it already is. Additionally, and no less importantly, through accident or design I also managed to read/reread most of Matthew M. Bartlett’s released books this year, from the field-stunning debut GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION, though the short THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, VOLUME ONE, to the tour-de-force CREEPING WAVES.
All of the above doesn’t even cover the books I read but am not yet allowed to discuss, or the wonderful short stories I considered at the beginning of the year for inclusion in 2016’s YEAR’S BEST WEIRD FICTION, VOL 3 (available now in trade, hardback, and ebook).
And I still have a stack of books I haven’t touched yet that I’m hoping to in the coming months (including John Langan’s THE FISHERMAN, Michael Griffin’s THE LURE OF DEVOURING LIGHT, and Peter Straub’s A DARK MATTER). The fields of dark speculative fiction are stronger now than ever before, and the wealth of great material feels nearly endless. It may be a horrible time to be living on the planet, but I have to tell you it’s a great time to be a horror reader.
I was very proud last year to have my novella, “Burnt Black Suns” (from which my fourth collection got its name), published in the Steve Jones-edited BEST NEW HORROR #26 (PS Publishing, 2015). This was the first edition released by PS (if you exclude the reprints of 1 through 4, and 25) and the production quality, as ever, is incredible. It was also the first time I shared space with Peter Straub in a book, which remains a surreal experience for me.
“Burnt Black Suns” was a novella that took me a long time to write, especially since it was, at the time, the longest piece I’d ever written, and it taught me a lot about my own craft and capabilities. The most important lesson I learned from writing it was how exciting a form the novella can be to work in, and I hope to write many more of them in the coming years.
My story, “In the Event of Death”, was published in BLACK WINGS IV (PS Publishing, 2015), a volume in the series edited by S. T. Joshi. It’s a riff on an idea from one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories, recontextualized and interpreted through my lens.
The story, in its earlier drafts, was drawn heavily from my own experiences, and though over time most of that personal material was removed, it still helped inform the story that remained. What’s most interesting is that of the material left in I can no longer be certain what was drawn from my own experiences and what was invented for the story. This is common occurrence for writers, I think, though knowing that does not dull how bizarre it is to find one’s memories bent and distorted by imagination. It also goes some distance to showing how memory is frequently fallible and untrustworthy. Perhaps that’s the true lesson in this story.
The title, by the way, is one of my favourites. It has a real “Cornell Woolrich” ring to it.