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…”