Tag Archives: Michael Kelly

“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.

 

 

SCRATCHING THE SURFACE by Michael Kelly

scratching

This is not a review. Michael Kelly’s SCRATCHING THE SURFACE (Crowswing, 2007; reprinted Undertow, 2013) is the debut collection from the highly esteemed editor of the excellent Shadows & Tall Trees journal. Originally published without fanfare from its doomed publisher, Undertow has returned it to much deserved circulation.

These are bleak tales of the many lost souls working their way through life, striving for some sort of understanding. There are a number of standout tales within its covers: the title story “Scratching the Surface”, the tale of a tenant whose art is revealing, and of the young son of the landlord who discovers the work; the “The Man Who Ate Moths”, the story of a boy who becomes a man who eats moths because of a deep secret is a fascinating read and exploration of guilt; the symbolic “Comes a Cool Rain”, whose meaning becomes clear only on reflection. Kelly deftly juggles the different levels of his work, layering in surprising and unusual ways. His characters are often defeated before realizing it, and what little hope exists often manifests in ways neither his characters nor his readers expect. 

Few debut collections contain so much assured power. If there’s any crime, it’s that the book proves Kelly is as talented a writer as he is an editor, something that gets undeservedly forgotten as Shadows & Tall Trees continues to grow in stature. We can only hope he doesn’t put the pen down for too long.

“Dwelling on the Past” in CHILLING TALES, VOL. 2

chilling

When I wrote “Dwelling on the Past”, it was an attempt to do two things I had, until then, not quite done before. The first was to set a story not only in a very real place, but set it at a very real time. The details of the stand-off in the story are as true as I could make them, and detail in part a stormy time in that region. I remembered the news accounts of the stand-off, and though I didn’t realize it then, something about the story must have stuck because it came to the fore all these years later. I’m not usually keen on writing something into a pre-existing narrative, but I felt there was enough room in this one, and the narrative was interesting enough on its own, that it might be a good place to experiment. The second task I set myself was to tell a story with a character who was more active and capable than most of my protagonists. I enjoy noir detective fiction as much as the next person, and I thought it might be interesting to work a “tough” into my tale. I imagine Harvey to look a lot like character actor Burt Young, and he would not take lying down what so many of my other characters do. He wouldn’t freeze under pressure or scream in terror. And he would not talk, to the best of my abilities, like a university professor. I like to believe I met both of these goals.

This tale deals with loss, another of my common themes, but also, and perhaps primarily, with guilt. It’s a devastating emotion, and I wanted to explore personal guilt as contrasted against society’s over what it’s done to its native people. Likely in no small part due to its positively Canadian aspects, Michael Kelly took the story for CHILLING TALES: IN WORDS, ALAS, DROWN I (Edge, 2013), the second volume in his annual series celebrating the best in contemporary Canadian horror fiction.