Category Archives: Story Notes

“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 most to 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 than 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 love but was languishing in a folder of other ideas. It’s one of the reason 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 idea in me. One day, I may even write one of them down.

“Scraps of Paper” in POSTSCRIPTS 34/35

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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.

“Burnt Black Suns” in BEST NEW HORROR 26

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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.

“In the Event of Death” in BLACK WINGS IV

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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.