Category Archives: Story Notes

“On Ice” in BLACK INFINITY #1

My story, “On Ice”, originally published in my collection, BURNT BLACK SUNS, has recently been reprinted in the premiere issue of the new science fiction magazine, BLACK INFINITY (2017).

I’ve always had a funny relationship with science fiction. Some of my favourite films fall into the genre, and yet when it comes to the written word I’ve never found myself attracted to it. There are exceptions, of course—there are always exceptions—but to a very large and significant degree I’m not interested in science fiction.

There are likely many reasons for this, but perhaps the greatest might be connected to the notion that the difference between science fiction and horror is the former is a genre of hope. It’s about looking forward to where humanity can go, what it can reach. I prefer my speculative fiction to look elsewhere, to focus on where humanity has gone wrong, and how we might suffer for it.

Nevertheless, like all genres and modes, the lines between science fiction and horror (and fantasy) have never been distinct, and as time progresses and new works are created, those lines have become even blurrier still. This I imagine is how some of the stories in BURNT BLACK SUNS could be considered as having crossed the boundary into science fiction, if only temporarily, and of the nine stories in that book, “On Ice” is likely one of the best examples of that occurrence. Or, at the very least, a good example of how I believe science can provide a stabilizing backdrop for a tale that’s about to drift off into the fantastic. Rooting horror in reality is key to making a story resonate. Without that reality, the horrific is prone to losing its efficacy.

 

“The Flower Unfolds” in NIGHTSCRIPT 3

My story, “The Flower Unfolds”, was published last month in the pages of NIGHTSCRIPT 3 (2017), the annual anthology series edited by C.M. Muller. I first wrote the story a few years ago for a different anthology that was always just a hair’s breadth away from being published, but never was. Eventually, I took the rights to the story back and understood, almost immediately, once I had them that the best place for the piece would be within Muller’s journal.

I believe I first encountered C.M. Muller’s work in the pages of SHADOWS & TALL TREES, where his story “Vrang” caught my attention for its subtlety and atmosphere. It stood out among many great pieces in that journal, and it was clear Mr. Muller was approaching his fiction on a wavelength that I was predisposed to receive. After this exposure, I discovered his blog, where he was reviewing books and interviewing authors, and in reading his criticism I came to understand that his connection to this sort of strange fiction wasn’t accidental or blindly intuitive, but came from a deeper knowledge and appreciation of what makes the “strange story” tick. So when he announced that he had decided to start editing and publishing his own journal dedicated to this sort of short fiction, I was confident the field would be in excellent hands.

Still, I didn’t expect something so good, so polished, right off the bat. NIGHTSCRIPT is one of those rare journals that posits an argument for the strange story being the most exciting branch of the weird. Every story between its pages speaks to a central unstated philosophy of fiction and how it can operate on a subliminal level for various readers. These aren’t mere horror stories, or what many contemporary readers think of as weird fiction, but instead occupy a transient space where they achieve dissociative resonance in their exploration of the unknown. In short, Mr. Muller has been able to forge a journal in a mere two volumes (with a third on its way) that provides a definitive marker for the rise of sublime horror.

For these reasons, and more, I’m pleased to have my story published within its pages. The story itself was an attempt to return to the Strange stories I’d written more of earlier in my career, before I found myself side-tracked by the growing Weird movement. It takes as its inspiration stories my mother told me of her days working in the city, combined with my own experiences doing the same (albeit in a different sort of job). With this, a little bit of Robert Aickman is woven through, and the end result I think is a story that touches on a lot of the anxieties we feel as we find ourselves more and more distanced from nature and from ourselves.

“Doused by Night” in LOOMING LOW

My story “Doused by Night” appears for the first time this month in the anthology, LOOMING LOW (Dim Shores, 2017).

Sometimes a story requires a lot of massaging and consideration before I can even start to write it, and sometimes even after that work the story requires further effort to tease out its voice and its meaning. Those stories can be tough to write, but it makes discussing them after the fact more interesting. There’s a chain of events, a rise and fall of action—in essence, the writing of the story is a story in and of itself.

Occasionally, though, there are stories that fall together somewhat easily. One sits down in front of the page and a story tumbles out. “Doused by Night” was like this, which means that my notes on the story when looking back are anemic at best. There’s just not much to tell beyond that it went through successive iterations until it reached a publishable state.

What I can say is that the goal for the story, at the outset, was to meld noir fiction and weird fiction. Despite how often we see this pairing, it never fails to amaze me how the two lenses view the world a similar way—with a deep and inherent mistrust. Noir mistrusts institutions and weird mistrusts existence, but both bristle at the forces that aim to control us. I wanted to explore this my own work, so as a seed I started with the idea of riffing on one of my favourite noir films, D.O.A., which tells the story of a man who discovers he has been incurably poisoned, and aims to solve the mystery of his murder in the final day he has left to live. It’s a great film (barely sullied by the remakes that have followed) and I thought it would make a great weird noir tale.

The only other aspect of the story that strikes me is how on occasion I’ll discover a story doesn’t intend to finish where I initially anticipated. Where I thought this story was headed turned out to be a different place altogether, which is never not exciting, just as it’s never not terrifying to experience. The only way to make it through is to forge ahead and find the spot where everything that needs telling gets told. The art can be in figuring out exactly where that spot is.

“In the Tall Grass” in SHADOWS & TALL TREES, VOL. 7

SHADOWS & TALL TREES, VOL. 7 (Undertow Publications, 2017), edited by the fantastic Michael Kelly, is now shipping, and it contains a new story from me entitled, “In the Tall Grass”.

When I first started the story, it was 1992, and I was thinking less about being a writer than I was about anything. I had only just left high school, and was unsure what I wanted from life. I knew I wanted to create things, but didn’t know if it would be through prose or pencils or paints or any of the myriad of mediums available to me. So, I indulged in them all to one degree or another, filling notepads with doodles and drawings and random snippets of poorly written prose and even more poorly written poetry. It was in one of these latter poems that I first dreamed about a sad parent and their tree-shaped boy.

Over the next few years, I added more and more to this story, layering short paragraphs on to it as though it were a papier-mâché sculpture. It never extended more than a few pages in length, but at the time it was my greatest and most involved project. Eventually, I started testing it in other mediums, creating paintings and drawings that might somehow capture the bittersweet story I hoped to tell, but never managed to.

Eventually, I left it behind. I didn’t forget about it, not really, but it became a story I told myself I would one day tell, if only I figured out how. And so it languished in the notebooks of my youth, patiently slumbering.

When Michael Kelly approached me about the return of SHADOWS & TALL TREES, and invited me to send him a story, I knew I needed something different from the cosmic weird fiction I’d written for my previous collection. Michael and S&TT needed something stranger and more fantastic than that, and it didn’t take me long to remember I had a story already partially written, one that had all the elements I knew he would like. All I needed to do, I was confident, was brush it up, add an ending, and it would be ready to go.

As is often the case with such plans, they went horribly wrong very quickly, starting from the beginning when I re-read what I’d written so many years previous and discovered how little of it was useable. In fact, now that the story has been told, I see I saved only a few lines from that original text. Around it, the story grew and branched in ways I didn’t expect, much like the boy at the centre of the tale. I also managed to fit in a scientific explanation for his state, something I’d stumbled across a few years ago and knew instantly what to do with.

“In the Tall Grass”, like many of my stories, is a story of loss. But I also think it’s a story of hope, and overcoming. And of coming to understand one’s place in the world. I’m proud it found a home in SHADOWS & TALL TREES, and I hope you buy a copy of the journal so you might read it, and read all the other wonderful work between its covers.

 

 

“The Fifth Stone” in NIGHTMARE’S REALM

 

nrWhen 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.