Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Bluebeard & Lovecraft = "I Am..." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #9

First of all, took a slight break to get Occasional Beasts: Tales out into the wild.
Yes, you can order your copy Now!

Now, let's get back to the story notes blog posts.

I'd gotten an invitation to write a tale for an anthology dealing with a Lovecraftian spin on fairy tales called, A Mythos Grimmly. The fantastic weird fiction writer, Joseph S. Pulver Sr., had suggested me to the editor/publisher, opening the door.

With the invite at hand, I had to pick a fairy tale to mesh with something Lovecraftian. Since they didn't want overlapping fairy tales, and the list was already getting filled up, I mentioned this to my girlfriend, Alessandra, and she immediately said, "Bluebeard." I was like--what? She explained the plot, I researched it further, and knew that, yes, "Bluebeard" would be the fairy tale I would use to construct my tale. I knew I would modernize it, but the foundation would be derived from that fairy tale.

The only problem was, I could not figure out how exactly to weave these elements together. I mulled over if for a while. I had received the invite while in Rome; I didn't get to it until later in the year.  The idea for how to shape the tale came to me on one of my walks from the house in which I rent a room to the Quik Stop, as I am wont to do, a little fresh air, perhaps pick up a bite next door at the pizza place on one side or the donut shop on the other. I remember walking away from there, back to my room...when an image hit me like a sledgehammer.

The image was so harrowing I, a horror writer, pushed it away. It was too harsh, too grotesque, too cruel an image. What was it? It was a graphic depiction of somebody pouring gasoline on a woman's face...and setting it on fire.  I tried to push this horrific image away, but it persisted...until I got toward the house and the room...and something was taking shape.

Yes, out of the ashes of something that made me truly uncomfortable, the tale rose up like a Phoenix, forcing me to look at it, forcing me to use it. Why? Because it was a gift, in a way, charred and skin-curling and all, and it was the trigger that sent the tale along its path.

Here's that opening sequence, the aftermath of the attack:


I am…

Waking in fire.

I feel eternally in flame.

My breath rises from singed lungs, climbing my esophagus, exiting in clipped bleats from a throat scarred by smoke. I feel I am gagging just to breathe. I feel I am drowning in fire.

I am drowning in fire.

Somebody says, “Calm down, Miss. Calm down. I’ll get the doctor.”

I am in a hospital. As my eyelids flutter open, my vision is blurred, though the room is dark. Perhaps my perception is skewed by the darkness; a cloying, pervasive darkness. Yet, I sense I’ve not used my eyes in a while.

How long? I do not know.

The skin of my face and neck sings a song of severe distress. My brain takes the flood of input and swerves toward shutting down, but I stall it. I hold my breath and stall everything. Though my nerve endings attempt to scatter, seek refuge in the internal sanctuary of blood, viscera, and possibly soul, it is to no avail. This song must be endured. This pain. This experience.

Even with the chorus rising up in chattering, masticating timbres, gleefully gnawing on the chaos-filled realm of gray matter that is my brain, my mind—these spiraling, absurd thoughts—I am able to raise my left hand to my face, to feel the soft, coarse texture. Gauze, not skin.

Then, I remember:


Well, whatever she remembers, you'll have to read the tale to find out. You'll also have to read the tale to see how something Lovecraftian fits into the mix.

Here's a hint, but it doesn't tell you nearly enough. Yes, that's one take on the Necronomicon. I've got another one for you. But for now, yes, this one's pretty cool.  I believe it was created by Richard A Poppe.

Remember: Occasional Beasts: Tales is out now and I consider it perhaps my finest book to date. A variety of weird horrors await. Don't keep them waiting, they'll get agitated, and then, hell, they may show up at your door when you least expect them and...

It won't be pretty.

Invite them in. Purchase your copy now!

Up next, beauty is in the eye of the beholder in one of the strangest tales you'll ever read, "Beautiful."

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Depeche Mode, Joe R. Lansdale, A Stroll in Rome = Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #8: "Personal Jesus"

That's quite a mouthful, eh? And it's all here!

Where do you get your ideas? Stories come together in the strangest ways.

Alessandra and I were walking along the trail to view the Ninfeo di Egeria here in Rome, which I described in my tale, “Slorp” as follows: “At the end of the path, after a long trek, we walk on an iron grate and view the ruins of the Ninfeo di Egeria, our destination.   There’s not a lot to the place, though the pond blanketed with dense green algae that spreads to the stones and plant life at its rim draws our attention.  We stand at a distance, as the swamp ground is not a Welcome mat allowing further exploration.”

Yes, that means two tales have been inspired by our walks to those ruins. The second one is the subject of this blog post, “Personal Jesus.” You already knew that, though.

During the summer of 2017, we were again taking a stroll along that path when we noticed a surreal farmyard scene playing out to our left. A menagerie of animals were present, full of every farm animal you could imagine, and many of them were odd, some seeming oversized, but odd no matter what.

And there was a sound coming from behind the closed doors of a large building.

As we stood there, it came to me what the sound was: music. It was loud, distorted to the point of eye-crossing if one was to stand to close to it, but we were on the other side of the fence, standing at a distance, when I realized what the song was: Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus.” Yes, standing on a trail in Rome, emanating from within a large building, Depeche Mode were cranked to ear-bleeding…and a tall, curious looking fella who looked as though the last thing in the world he’d listen to was Depeche Mode was tending to the animals.

Perhaps the music wasn’t for him.

A story started to stir, but I wasn’t sure how this would come together yet. I mentioned my burgeoning story idea to Alessandra, as I often do, and she said to me something out of left field, about my Joe R. Lansdale story.

Why did she mention this, I have no idea; she has no idea.  But that was all I needed to give the situation direction; the situation being the tale spinning crazily, yes, crazily(!!!!) In my head.

The Joe R. Lansdale story is not one I wrote, it’s one I experienced.

During February of 2002, I had reached critical mass for my flailing sanity and needed a break from everything. My personal life was a disaster. I’d decided I needed to get away from everything—probably me just wanting to run away, y’know, instead of dealing with the mess; no, this was not my best moment, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do, anyway, or so it seemed at the time.

I went on a three-week road trip through the southwest with the intent of salvaging my mind and getting my focus back. I needed to breathe again. I started in early February with my girlfriend at the time in tow.  As we made it to east Texas and approached Nacogdoches, I remembered Joe R. Lansdale lived there, and thought we should say Hi, in a way. We went to a phone booth and, um…borrowed the page with his address on it and headed out to drop a letter in his mailbox, letting him know how much we loved his writing. Lansdale’s always been one of my faves! We did this, found his house, set back from the road, and there it was. A mailbox awaited out trespass or, well, at least it was there so we could drop the note in it and be on our way.
(Other elements of this road trip have made it into my fiction: There’s a sequence in my novel, Riding the Centipede, that takes place in Roswell, New Mexico, that was derived from my time passing through there.)

A funny connective aside: I’d told Alessandra this story at some point and she remembered it when Lansdale did a reading in Rome. She bought one of his books and told him the story. He told her he remembered the note and that we should have walked up and knocked on the door and said Hello.


Just damn, haha…

Annnnyway, so there you have the pieces being tossed in the mental mixer that eventually took shape in “Personal Jesus.” Also added to the mix was the title of one of the characters--la dea maiale, swino divino. More on her in a second.

Where do we as writers get out stories? In the case of out lead characters, Harmon and Cliff, who decided to divert their road trip to drop by and do as I had done on my road trip and visit a famous horror writer by the name of, ahem, “Joseph G. for Gore, motherfucker, Brakeland,” they found out more than they could have imagined.

Here’s a bit from their predicament that hints at what la dea maiale, swino divino, is…


     He wasn’t sure this was a possibility, what with a madman who both he and Cliff praised to friends and each other for years as a writer of the grittiest, goriest horror, holding them hostage, while the answer to a question he did not care to know hung like a guillotine about to drop and completely sever Cliff and him from reality.  

     Where do you get your stories, Mr. Brakeland? 

     What had his response been in the interview with an Italian horror magazine he’d watched on You Tube?  What had he said?  Something absurd…

     “La dea maiale.  Swino divino,” he answered to the Italian interviewer.  “The pig goddess. The divine swine.  She shits out the stories, I mold the shit into shape.  Write stories about those creatures.  Simple as that.”  The interviewer, bouncing between Brakeland’s limited Italian and the English translated into Italian, guffawed after the interpreter had completed the translation.   

     “Where do I get my stories?”  Brakeland asked. 

     But Harmon already knew, as the back half of the huge building lit up, and Cliff screamed. 


There are also fictional story titles in the tale as Harmon and Cliff recall some of Brakeland's best tales.  I’ve contemplated writing the stories to go with them, as they have teasers about what they would be about, as a Joseph G. Brakeland collection, though perhaps an anthology with contributions from other writers would be cool, too. What? Either way, it's fun speculation, and that's what we writers do. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment, it was a lot of fun for me, too. Where do our stories come from? Our twisted minds! 

Occasional Beasts: Tales is out Monday. Yes, Monday, September 17. The link here for digital should include the print version at that time as well. Though you can order the print directly from my fabuloous exc publisher, OmniumGatherum, if you want. Just…do it!  

Print again (On Amazon)

Here’s Depeche Mode looking at lot like they should be working at the ranch house in the tale. SEE HOW IT ALL MAKES SENSE!!

Next up, a three-pack, perhaps one at a time or separately, not sure yet, but hey, the lead tale will be “I Am…”

Monday, September 10, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #7: "This Darkness..."

Based On A Real…Incident…?!!

Well, yes, the idea stems from a midnight jaunt up a mountain outside of Portland, Oregon.


Let me step back and set you up properly.

I lived in Portland, Oregon from mid-2002 to October of 2005. Life had gone completely off the rails beforehand. I only ended up there because my ex-wife—though we may not have officially been divorced at the time (long story, don’t ask, haha; for all I know it may end up in a story at some point, so you can find out then)—had moved with my son up to a small town in southern Washington, to live near her sister. Portland was across the Columbia Gorge from where they lived, and no matter our losing our way, I needed to be near my son, to be a part of his life…through all the madness that led us all to this point.

Things settled down, I made Portland my home.

One evening, my girlfriend and best friend up there and myself decided to drive up to the top of one of the mountains east of Portland; can’t remember which one, I want to say Larch mountain, but think that’s probably not correct. We drove up late one night to the top, where the asphalt ended in a parking lot which we could barely see the lines to distinguish parking places…as if it mattered. We were alone, and it was dark. Places where only the lights of nature intrude—the stars, the moon, the red eyes of demons—change the way one sees and feels things. It’s a different world. It’s almost oppressive, suffocating in a way. We hung out briefly, wandered around, feeling instantly lost once we exited the car, as we could barely see a foot in front of us once we moved away from it; I honestly don’t remember if I turned the lights off while stopped, but no matter with what followed...

Just as we left the parking lot, heading on our way down, I turned the lights off. We hung there for a few moments in a darkness that felt as though it might crush the car, and us within it. A truly harrowing sensation. The real surprise, though, was when I turned on the lights…and a bear was running in the road in front of us, caught in the lights and leaping off the road and into the forest.

We freaked out. It amped the harrowing sensation brought on by the darkness to a point where, I’m sure, each one of us had adrenaline pumping in overdrive through our bodies.

I remembered the incident and knew it would somehow take shape in a tale. I think it surprised me that the bear, or at least a bear-like creature, also made it into the tale. This one’s subtly cosmic when it gets to the creature. The darkness, “This Darkness…” insists Susie, our main character, walk on by the beast, if she has any ideas on surviving the ordeal she’s already witnessed so far.

Shall we walk along with her?


     Susie expected animal musk, the gamey scent of the wild, the stink of nature’s bloody victory.  What she got was beyond comprehension.  What she saw was a silhouette, a misplaced shadow--something undefined—perhaps just a black shape from which freezing waves from the wasteland of its being emanated.  With a slight twitch of her head she glanced closer at the beast, into an immeasurable cosmic gulf littered with shards of bone and constellations cognizant of her trespass as the beast, this thing, an emissary from this darkness, wailed into the starless sky.  It was the roar of planets being birthed; it was the keen of suns going supernova; it was the alpha and omega of eternity; it was infinite yet steeped in the here and now.


There’s a lot going on in this tale about the choices we make in life. There’s also the darkness, “This Darkness…” which is given a voice. 
"This Darkness..." originally appeared in the Crystal Lake Publishing anthology, For the Night is Dark

As I type this, Occasional Beasts: Tales is one week away from being published!

It’s time you pre-ordered a copy, don’tchathink?


Here’s some cool art that works for the tale, in a way. Because, y’know, the creature in the tale is not a bear, it’s something more…cosmic and horrific, but it relates to a bear. This art is from a game called Shadow of the Colossus. I do not know who made the art, but I like it.

Next up, the age-old question of where writers get their ideas gets answered in a grim and quite unexpected manner, as we meet our “Personal Jesus.”

Friday, September 7, 2018

Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #6: "The Occasional Beast That Is Her Soul"

When I was trying to figure out what to call the new collection, there were many variations of [something] Monster and [something] Beasts, and some related creatures, finally realizing I had a tale with a good name for the collection but didn’t want a tale to be designated that way. So, I simply took the part I needed…and there you go.

But that tells you nothing of the tale.

It originated as response to a blog post by writer Zoe Whitten dealing with shapeshifters. She detailed all aspects of her spin on shapeshifters, which I found utterly fascinating, and made a lot of sense to me. As I dwelled on her observations, I also realized I wanted to dip my quill into a tale dealing with shapeshifters, perhaps not in as an intense a manner, but still… Shapeshifters fascinated me already—transformation being a major theme in my work, even if not directly stated as a shapeshifter—so I thought it a good idea to explore deeper.

This inspired not one, but two tales as a response.

The first tale I wrote with this element is called, “Blood Echo Symphonies,” written as a nod to a writer whose work I’ve enjoyed, yet only I know this, and you probably cannot tell by reading the tale who the writer is. The tale is kind of word-heavy, full of poetic nips and tucks, and works as a curious, futuristic exploration of eternal love. This might not be evident until the end of the tale, as the core deals with a band, a club, and the all-around ambience of that world just around the corner, but love, yes love, is what drove the tale. 

The second tale, written right after it, was “The Occasional Beast that is Her Soul.” Also set in a future world, this was to be my attempt at something steampunk, believe it or not. I used only the trimmings, as I did not want to lose the gist of what was the tale’s heart, which was more about love (again), yet from the angle of one not understanding what happens to herself in situations of love, how her body turns on her. By the end of the tale, she realizes perhaps what she needs from love has nothing to do with one-on-one intimacy, but something much larger and profound. Have I said too much? Well, you can see for yourself when you read the tale.

Ellen Datlow does an honorary mentions listing online for tales she finds worthy each year, in accordance with her Best Horror of the Year anthologies. “The Occasional Beast that is Her Soul” was my first mention on the list.

Here’s the opening sequence:


     Tonight she wished for wings.

     Thea at the window, wishing for something more than the wayward enticements of this earth, or the fickle fantasies that roosted glumly in the minds of her potential partners.

     Tonight there will be wings…

     It was not the first time Thea had nurtured this thought.  With the malleable condition of her body as shaped by the emotional resonance within her psyche, wings would be a much better transmutation than what has transpired so far; than what she always has become: a beast of ill intent...

     Talons to tear into the meat of her lover.

     Pincers to pluck out the cooling gray matter from the bowl of the cranium she had cracked as one would an egg, red runny yolk staining the carpet.

     Wings would be her only means of escape this evening, the dizzying height demanding something different.  Always running from something, maybe flight would bring her freedom.  But wings had failed her before, bony stubs along the parchment expanse of flesh so thin the wind tore from them the ability to glide along the invisible ether byways above everything.

     They would have to be strong wings, she thought, then frowned, a shifting of flesh with which she had actual control.

     Because her control was as much driven by shock and panic as by wish-fulfillment.  Shock and panic and the wayward imagination of her lovers, as muddled by that which resided within her...

     She had rarely become something more than the occasional beast that is her soul.  


Occasional Beasts: Tales, will be published in less than two weeks! Pre-order your copy now!

(The Print will be available on Amazon and elsewhere soon; the book will be published on the 17th of this month, so by then, for sure!) 

“The Occasional Beast That Is Her Soul” was initially published in White Cat magazine, and reprinted in the anthology, Street Magick:Tales of Urban Fantasy.

Here’s the cover art for the latter.

The next Story Notes blog post will reveal what I really found in “This Darkness.”