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.
I don’t have much more to say about the story that I haven’t already said before, but in terms of venue I’m never more proud than when Stephen Jones takes one of my tales for BEST NEW HORROR. Long before anyone really noticed what I was doing, Jones took an interest, and has included something from me almost every year. He has been a great supporter of what I do, and despite the reputation he’s received in some quarters, has never been less than a friend to me—one who has never spoken anything but the truth. His achievements are woefully under-appreciated on this side of the Atlantic. The BEST NEW HORROR series, under his guidance, has been the longest continuously running series of its kind (save the PAN Books of Horror). It’s no mystery to me why.
About a million years ago, I wrote story called “The Other Village”. The story was written for the second volume in Tartarus’s STRANGE TALES series, and was accepted less than twenty-four hours after submission (which was amazing, considering my first few submissions to the book were rejected). It was elated, and became even more so the following year when Stephen Jones selected it for THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST NEW HORROR, VOL. 19. This was my first time in the series—in any best-of book—and it felt incredible to be part of that select few.
The internet is a funny thing. You can find almost anything there. One day, a few years later, I stumbled across an audio download of that same book. It was strange, primarily because I hadn’t been aware of an audio edition. I certainly hadn’t given anyone the rights to record my story. Yet, upon downloading, I realized that it was what it said on the tin—BEST NEW HORROR, in audio form. And, weirder, it sounded professionally recorded. Yet when I asked Jones about it, I was told it was not a legitimate recording. Why would anyone go through the trouble of reading the entire book and recording it? Was it an acting exercise of some sort? I was perplexed, but did what anyone would do: I saved the file for my story.
I stumbled over that recording today by accident, and gave it a refreshed listen. This story is a pretty bitter pill, and contains one of my most unpleasant characters. I love her, but if I were writing the story now, I’d likely soften her, just a smidgen, just enough to make her human. That said, I think we all know people like her, and I think the story told around her remains strong.
This story remains pretty important to me for a host of reasons, but perhaps most of all as a sign post that assured me what I was doing was worthwhile, and that I had something unique to offer. And, in the spirit of offering, I offer the story here for you to listen to. True, I don’t have permission from the person who recorded it to share his work, but neither did he to share mine. I thus consider it a draw.
(And for those who want more of this sort of tale, I point you to my collection, COLD TO THE TOUCH, where this story was ultimately collected.)