Friday, August 31, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #5: "The Cooing"

You're going to like this one. Well, I hope you've enjoyed the previous Story Notes posts, of course...but I'm giving you something extra with this one. Something special! ;-)

"The Cooing" is the shortest tale in the collection. The idea came to me...while Alessandra and I were on vacation a few years ago, somewhere in the middle of Italy. We were wandering around, as we do, and I heard a bird. A bird that did not sound well. I mentioned this out loud. I heard it again. It was a strange, uneasy sound.

As you know, sometimes, that's all it takes.

A couple, Magdalene and Sam (Samantha), end up in the middle of nowhere, investigating an abandoned house. Sam is a photographer and finds the desolation fits her mindset, while all Magdalene wants is to get away from the place. Weird bird sounds commence. Things turn ugly. Oddly enough, as I wrote this one, perhaps swayed by the title, I thought of it as a very British horror tale...yet it takes place in the southwest of America.

Also of note: the Alberto Savinio quote you'll find in the sample(s) below was something Alessandra pointed in my direction when I was writing the tale. It fit perfectly with both the tale and Magdalene's mental state, so I had to use it somehow. I love how it snuck into the finale. 

When the tale was accepted for publication by CM Muller for the debut issue of his excellent anthology series, Nightscript, he wanted me to tone down the ending a bit, give it more subtlety; pretty much, to lose a paragraph that went further than he liked. I took his suggestion and made the change, which I really liked. That said, I held onto the file with the original, extended and more gruesome ending, which I will present to you here.

I will post the published version first, and the original second, for comparison.

The published ending:

     Sam gasped, breath released, surrender at hand.  Her legs gave out as she stumbled backwards, landing hard on the wooden chair at the head of the table. 

     Magdalene started to whimper as a passage from one of her favorite books, Alberto Savinio’s Lives of the Gods, flashed within the dimming light of her thoughts: “Don’t judge me by what you see now; I don’t take care of myself, my sufferings have sharpened my beak, and I do nothing but laugh.”  She pulled her legs even closer, a taut, trembling ball, and tried to make herself smaller.  Tried to disappear. 

     “Coo, coo,” it said, a throaty, ugly sound--wrong as Magdalene had suggested; as she had known--as it stepped into the room…

And the extended, more gruesome version:

     Sam gasped, breath released, surrender at hand.  Her legs gave out as she stumbled backwards, landing hard on the wooden chair at the head of the table. 

     Magdalene started to whimper as a passage from one of her favorite books, Alberto Savinio’s Lives of the Gods, flashed within the dimming light of her thoughts: “Don’t judge me by what you see now; I don’t take care of myself, my sufferings have sharpened my beak, and I do nothing but laugh.”  She pulled her legs even closer, a taut, trembling ball, and tried to make herself smaller.  Tried to disappear. 

     As shocking as the figure was, though, the matter of appearance took the back seat to what it held in its peeled flesh, bony fingers made to look like talons.  In its right hand, hair clumped in the fist as three recently severed heads dangled limply.  In its left hand it gripped the severing weapon, a huge knife still dripping blood to the wooden floor.

     “Coo, coo,” it said, a throaty, ugly sound--wrong as Magdalene had suggested; as she had known--as it stepped into the room, raising the left hand, intent on adding to its collection.

Y'know, I could go either way with which one works best, haha...

Occasional Beasts: Tales will be published in less than three weeks. Here's the pre-order info. Order up. Please and thank you!

Print <--via Omnium Gatherum
Digital <-- via Amazon

PS. Yes, the print version will eventually make it to Amazon.

Here's a surreal piece of strange bird art courtesy of Savinio…

Next, we have a tale of transformation, "The Occasional Beast that is Her Soul." Actually, many of these tales contain an element of transformation... Hmmm...

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #4: "Dandelions"

"Dandelions," at least in its original version, is the oldest tale in this collection. Of course, as with most tales, that original version resides in the rearview mirror and is long forgotten.

I remember a writer with whom I had a regular email correspondence with in the early 2000s, before he passed away--we'd exchange tales, give feedback; I remember perhaps eighty percent of his tales ended with him having his penis bit off by some evil woman/monster, so he had some damn streamlined focus with the subject, ahem--noted after reading the original version of "Dandelions" around, say, 2004-5, he thought the ending was the most poetic and bleak thing he'd ever read. Of course, when coming from a fella obsessed with penis-eating female monsters, one might question the validity of such a statement. But I had similar responses from most all beta readers--the few over the years--so I knew there was, perhaps, something that worked there. At least I held on to that with all the revisions this one went through.

Anyway and whatever.

Around 2009-10, the story was accepted for a new, pro-paying magazine, they were going to build their debut issue around it! This was wonderful news...while it lasted. The magazine never made it off the ground, but in their comments upon acceptance, they said, "You do know, the tale starts on page 4." It wasn't a question, it was a fact, something I immediately took to heart and revised to move the story forward in a quicker manner.  (Seems "moving forward" in one form or another is the theme of this blog post...)

More revisions followed as I was put in touch with Jordan Krall, who publishes books and, in this case, chapbooks, as Dynatox Ministries/Dunhams Manor. "Dandelions" was published by Dunhams Manor a few years ago, after even more tweaks, of course.

Though I can be quite graphic/loud/extreme with my fiction at times, "Dandelions" was purposefully subtle and strongly Weird.

The tale involves two couples taking a coastal drive, destination unknown, as a break from the technology-cluttered world they lived in. They end up at a curious hotel just off the beach, near a mysterious field of dandelions. The folks running the hotel radiate oddness in indescribable ways. The whole ambience of the hotel seems steeped in some liminal space, as if...well, you'll have to see.

Here's a snippet from one of the early reviews of Occasional Beasts: Tales, courtesy of Char's Horror Corner:

DANDELIONS: There was something about this story that put me in mind of Shirley Jackson. Maybe it was the feeling of the characters that something was wrong with the geometry in the hotel in which they stopped for the night? Other than that portion though, I doubt Ms. Jackson would have recognized the warped reality to which Mr. Smith delivered us, kicking and screaming. Bravo!

A cool reference, a great review!

Pre-order the digital version of Occasional Beasts: Tales HERE.

Or the print version HERE.

But please, do pre-order it! The book will be published in less than a month!

Here's the cover art done by Krall for the out-of-print chapbook. Dig it. I do!

What's that sound? Must be "The Cooing," up next!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #3: "A Declaration of Intent"

I’d made a declaration of intent last week (excuse that), planning to get the Story Notes blog post for the third tale in my forthcoming collection, Occasional Beasts: Tales, out on, say, Thursday or Friday. Last Thursday or Friday. Well, as I was finally wrapping it up on Saturday, delayed by internet connection issues here in Rome—just something we have to deal with, especially when storms hit--one slight misstep zapped the post into cyberHell, where it remains to this day; well, it’s only a few days later, but you get my drift.

That’ll teach me! That’s why I am doing as I had done with the first two posts, typing them up in a file.

Let’s see: “A Declaration of Intent” is one of the most visceral tales you will ever read. No really. The inspiration behind it was Brian Evenson’s tale, “The Brotherhood of Mutilation,” which I’d read at some point just before writing it. That and Gary Braunbeck’s stunning, horrific novel, Prodigal Blues (my favorite by him), which I’d read quite a while ago. Elements of that novel still lingered within my writer’s brain as a possible path of exploration. The central connective tissue between those two wildly disparate tales, as hinted at more solidly with the title of Evenson’s tale is mutilation.

My tale starts subtly: 

     I am naked, lying on my stomach on the cool, dark sheets of a bed.  Everything in the room is dark, so my perception about the color of the sheets might be skewed by the absence of light.  I don’t feel right, don’t feel like myself.  I feel smaller.  I might be a child, but I don’t think like a child.  I think like myself, as I am now.  Now being relative, as dictated by the ambiguity of my present condition.

     I realize the sense of feeling smaller might be a feeling of being less than I was before this moment.  Less mass, less me.  

Before the scalpel slices deeper: 

     I am still naked, perhaps leaner than I remember.  There are markings all over my flesh.  A few quarter-sized chunks of flesh have been gouged out of my body.  I glance from the mirror to my body, noting the markings look to be made with ink. 

     These are the blueprints of some thing, of some place, I do not want to explore.

     Each quarter-sized hole is surrounded by dried blood and red, infected skin.  Pus oozes around the ridges of some of the puncture wounds.  I get the impression these holes were done as some kind of testing, perhaps to gauge how my body would react to…something more being done to it.  The markings on my flesh indicate patterns with purpose.  As if something has begun to take shape.

     A new me?   

It only escalates from there… 

If you’ve read my fiction before, you already know I enjoy body horror (“Broken Teacup,” anyone? “The Dark is Light Enough for Me”? Riding the Centipede, of course! Even The Wilderness Within, though the body transformation is less horror and is, well, something more positive; wish fulfillment?). I may veer weird, but I’m your Weird writer who enjoys messing with the body as much as the mind. I like to touch the reader in all possible ways. Horrors experienced via the physical are something all of us can relate to, especially if presented in an unflinching manner, as I try to do. With “A Declaration of Intent,” the slow mutilation with a purpose, as sculpted into the body, interlinked like puzzle pieces, perhaps—you’ll see; you’ll Read!--is done out of love. A warped, obsessive spin on love…but love, nonetheless.

*I believe my love of body horror comes from being a big fan of David Cronenberg’s movies, of which, as I am sure you know, the early ones veered deep into the horrors of the body, while still being intellectually complex, something I like to do with my fiction. Anyway, this thought came to me to earlier today as Alessandra and I were out discussing such things. 😉

Here’s the


pre-order info for Occasional Beasts: Tales.

And here’s some tattoo art that seems appropriate…

Next up, what could be so haunting about “Dandelions”?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #2: "The Wounded Table."

Story ideas come out of everywhere, including out of the blue. As mentioned in my previous blog post, “The Glove” was triggered by spotting a single glove in a field in Italy. “The Wounded Table” started in a completely different manner. It was an unexpected gift from the writing gods, who sent me one paragraph, an image, a voice, everything there…and it was up to me to find the story that went with it.

Let me see if I still have that original paragraph on file, hang on [goes to documents, not there; plugs in thumb drive and…]
The paragraph in question? Nothing special, but within my writer’s brain, it insisted I save it, put it in a file. When I read it in my head, the voice is so clear. Here it is. Raw, sure, but one has to start somewhere. 

“You’re like a stain on a heavy oak dining table.  Just gotta rub it out, use a little elbow grease.  If’n that don’t work, you use your fingernails, pick off the top layer, dig inside, where it’s still pure.  Where your presence hasn’t corrupted it yet.”

The character who says a variation of this, the mother of our narrator’s missing best friend, is not as sunk into the words, but that table…that table…

I had to know that table.

That’s when our narrator’s voice came to me. A young girl, Kimmie, who lives in a never named town in the south.  This was done purposefully. Just as details of the characters are never fully described--the mother gets some, but not Kimmie and Jolene; ah, peripheral characters get some, but our two main characters, I kept it lean. Just thinking that now, what an odd decision. I liked the ambiguity, the vague impressions left to be shaped by the reader. Leaving it open to interpretation seemed the natural path for this one.  

Kimmie's friend and forbidden love interest, Jolene, has missed school for some time. Kimmie finally decides to head across town to where she lives, to see how she is.

A simple tale. I tale of love. A tale of those who get by in circumstances steeped in poverty, or those who get swallowed up by drugs or within the ravenous maw of hopelessness. Choices made by the latter play key to what transpires in this tale. 

It's also a tale that hints at voodoo or some voodoo-related (it’s magic, yes, it’s magic) transformation that takes place in an already surreal apartment. Actually, Jolene puts it like this, in describing her mother: 

“She’s got all this heebie-jeebie, mumbo-jumbo shit she wants to teach me.  I don’t care about that kind of thing, got no interest that way.  Creeps me out, mostly.  I tell her, ‘Not now, momma, not now,’ then end up locking myself in my bedroom, hoping she gets a clue.  Our place is weird, anyway,” Jolene would say, then pause, any words to follow boarded up inside her.  Worst thing was her eyes, though, shifting to empty, like a drained bottle poking out of a brown bag.

Did you catch that, the final sentence spoken by Jolene, tagged on as an afterthought: "Our place is weird, anyway." Which begs the question" What makes the apartment "weird"? 

Well, perhaps it's that the architecture seems almost alive...

[this is where the writer leaves you dangling, curious about how an apartment can seem alive. I wonder...]

And that table, the one above. It’s the centerpiece of something so preposterous and obscene and yet love shapes it all and shapes a finale that may shock some.

The penultimate sentence is one of my personal favorites that I’ve written. Is that bad to say? Should I not admit that out loud? Bah, whatever! I read it and smile. Perhaps you will, too.

The title came after I got the tale rolling. I could not think of what to call it when it popped into my head: Frida Kahlo has a painting called, “The Wounded Table.” I’d actually used this painting in a scene from my Bram Stoker nominated debut novel, Riding the Centipede. Though the tale has nothing to do with the piece of art, that title was perfect.

You will, of course, have to read the tale to get all the details as to why it is perfect.

Pre-order info. Go! Buy!

Occasional Beasts: Tales…Print

Occasional Beasts: Tales…Digital

Though the tale has nothing to do with Kahlo's painting, here it is in all its bizarre glory!

A few days from now, we’ll deal with Story #3, “A Declaration of Intent.” This one is rather…puzzling (you’ll see).

Friday, August 3, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #1: "The Glove"

*I realized as I read this first entry, I’m just letting the impressions flow, some character descriptions, some story details, some essential elements, but not all, of course. Enough, perhaps, to pique your interest! Yes, you, the person reading these words. 

Shall we get started?

I enjoy story notes. I enjoy reading about what inspired a tale, the birth, the details, info—whatever. I remember reading Harlan Ellison some forty years ago and how I almost enjoyed his story notes as much as his tales, or the tales within Dangerous Visions. So, story notes work for me.

I figure a few readers or prospective readers (buy mybooks!) might also be interested. Hence, the new collection, Occasional Beasts: Tales, out September 17, which gives me a little over 6 weeks to dig into what inspired the fourteen tales, post them on this here blog, and have some fun remembering where each tale came from. Well, besides the obvious: my warped mindset.

I’ll go in sequence, of course, so the first tale I will touch on is the opener, “The Glove.”

“The Glove” deals with two psychics, one or both who may or may not be legit, a missing child, who may or may not be what she seems, and a glove, something taken from the child, to be utilized by the psychics as they work with the police to find her. This is the bare bones description of what’s going on in the longest tale from the collection, clocking in at around 16,100 words.

As you will notice as I write these blogs, a few of these tales were born in Italy. My girlfriend, Alessandra, lives there, so until we get everything worked out properly, I spend my summers there; and, yes, we are working toward a goal of being together, either in Italy, the states, Mexico, Mars…it really doesn’t matter to me. She inspires me, and Italy does, as well.

We were on vacation near Siena—one of my favorite places in the world; yes, perhaps we’ll end up there! —a place where Alessandra rented an apartment in San Rocco a Pilli. When we take our rare vacations, we have to make accommodations for her Dalmatian, Ghibli. Adjacent to the apartment was a large field where we could walk him, so he could do his business. During one of our walks, I spotted a single glove on the ground.

Really, that’s all it takes sometimes. It may seem nothing special, but the writers know how the littlest thing can trigger the imagination. I remember immediately speculating about its origin—where it came from, why it was there--and went through some potential options out loud at first, so Alessandra could shake her head and think, "here goes my crazy boyfriend the writer again," and later in my head…and one of those possibilities had teeth; still needed fleshing out and direction, but it was too intriguing to ignore. I cannot say what it was, because you need to read the tale to see where it ultimately leads, but I knew I was on to something.

But, as usual, there’s never just one idea forming the foundation and/or within the constructs of any tale I write. I’ve noted before and will note again, it’s the layers being peeled back to reveal the true intent, the true reason a tale has come to me that makes writing fun. It also serves as a form of self-discovery as I learn more about myself through the tales.

As "The Glove" developed, it came to me to focus on an element from Lovecraft’s work that always fascinated me: his absurdly described creatures, gods and what-not. Another element rose to the top as well, that being the opening of doors to other worlds in the work of Clark Ashton Smith.

Why did my mind go to these places, I don’t know, but whatever it takes to shape a tale, tell it as it needs to be told, I’m open to anything.

With CAS in particular, there’s a nod to his tale, “The City of the Singing Flame.”  You may or may not pick up on this, but I know it was in my head as I wrote some sections; perhaps from a different angle, but it was there.  As much as “The Glove” may not seem outwardly related to Smith’s gem, there IS a connection.

Then there’s Piper Laurie in The Hustler.


The main character in “The Glove” is a psychic of sorts (is she legit? Is it all a scam?) named Allie Cahler. Of note, her origin is of mixed race, and this is rather key to the heart of the tale. She’s got Mexican heritage, while her father is perceived as simply white, with no details besides having left when she was young; she’s only left with slivers of impressions, and her name. She was raised by her mother in an environment rife with drugs, drink, and sex, until she ran away at fifteen. Cahler has never felt at home within either race. No trait strongly distinguishes her being, her DNA…at least as far as is obvious. She’s been a grifter with her partner, Jesse, for years, wearing different names, accents, whatever was necessary, in the quest for a few dollars more. Survival.

I wanted her to be damaged in a way—hell, most of my characters are damaged—but wanted something I could at least envision, when I ended up recalling Piper Laurie in the excellent movie based on Walter Tevis’s book, The Hustler. There’s a calmness to Laurie’s Sarah Packard’s acceptance of her failings and/or the meager life she’s managed to piece together. She's resigned to it, but still hopeful, at least when Paul Newman's "Fast" Eddie Felson enters her life. Cahler is less resigned, stronger than Packard, but there's a seed of something similar there they both water...with alcohol. When things go sideways, alcohol is what they lean on, and hard. It may only be a loose thread that connects them in the final product, but Laurie's Sarah Packard was there in the formative stages.

Then there’s Loren St. Clair. She’s devious, self-centered, and avaricious to the nth. Ego is her best friend. She’s also a psychic of sorts (is she legit? Is her whole reputation a scam?), whose intentions veer toward doing whatever it takes to keep her in the lap of luxury. That’s all I’m telling you about her, but you’re going to like her. Or love to hate her, probably. She’s lethal.

One more thought as I wrap this one up. I borrowed the name for the family of the missing child—Telfer—from my Spanish teacher in high school, junior year. 😉 [waves to Miss Telfer, wherever she may be]

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief overview of “The Glove,” which is ultimately a Weird tale exploration of the "Other," something that's become one of my main interests as my fiction evolves.  Keeping it loose and rather free-flowing, yeah, that seems the right path for these story notes.

Here's the pre-order info. By all means, order away!  

Occasional Beasts: Tales…Print
Occasional Beasts: Tales…Digital 

Until next time—just a few days away—here’s some weird glove art courtesy of Claire Watson. 

Next up: "The Wounded Table."