Thursday, October 11, 2018

Don't Shoot The Messenger--"Chrysalis." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #11

It starts with the bird...


“What in the…?”

The black bird plunked down on the kitchen tiles and skidded along the floor to Regina’s feet. She turned and immediately took to standing on her tip-toes before her balance wavered and she set her heels back down on each side of the trembling creature. She shuffled to one side, the shock of the intrusion one to shake her out of the doldrums of her dreary existence.

While listlessly washing the dishes, she’d once again been daydreaming about suicide as a legitimate goal in life. A goal she knew she was too weak to attain. She used to write bleak, depressive poetry, which might seem a cliché many maudlin young girls on the cusp of womanhood undertake, but her aspirations and talent were obvious. A few years later, as Regina had begun to make a name for herself, the weight of her dead whale marriage crushed her Muse. She allowed real misery to derail her burgeoning writing career before it truly got off the ground. It sank without a struggle, an anchor tied to the ankle of promise.


...and immediately puts you in Regina's misery-laden world.  But it didn't always end up at Regina's feet.  She may have been the original focal point, but I went through stages, attempting to find another protag (who knows why, I don't; before I knew who she was, she was perhaps too "normal") and a reason for this bird to come crashing through a window. Another version had a junkie living in an abandoned building, but I ended up coming back to Regina.

Regina? Even though I like her here, I took the name from the girlfriend of one of my best friend's when I was 8-9 years old who told him he couldn't hang out with me and another of my friends because we weren't cool. Here name was Regina, and that stuck with me.  She may have been right, we may not have been cool, but when you're an awkward, shy kid, being cool doesn't matter. Survival without embarrassing yourself in front of the other kids did.

Anyway, with this tale, the bird crashing through the window was the key in unlocking part of a quirky poem Regina is meant to know.  Other messengers, some inanimate, come along to give her other pieces of the poem. She learns in the process, the poem is something more than simply words, it's a means to an end.

As my friend Marco Cinque, Italian poet extraordinaire once said, "Words are living things."  I believe this, in my own writerly way. I also used this as the opening epigraph for the title story to my collection, Autumn in the Abyss.

The words as living things in this tale inspire transformation which, if you've been paying attention, is one of my favorite subjects. You can read more about it and other worthy writing stuff, as well as more about the new collection in my Hellnotes interview.

Another amusing tidbit.  As the story unfolded--and often, as I am writing tales--some of what's going on around me made it into the tale. In this case, my girlfriend had either submitted a poem to, or mentioned, an online magazine called, Menacing Hedge. I mentioned liking that title, so decided to...borrow it, as you can read here.


She could make out the outline of the menacing hedge that rimmed the lower portion of the window; menacing because it seemed more a moat around a castle, filled with sleek, razer-fanged serpents that did not allow her to step any further than the front porch. Excursions beyond were always accompanied by Derek, except for grocery shopping, which he hated. He timed those brief outings, limiting her freedom, which she knew was only an illusion. She was never free. The sinister king, the sadistic ruler of this dismal empire, made sure of this.


It may all seem bleak, hell, those samples confirm it is, but it ends up in a place of absolute bliss. This was not totally of my doing. Sure, what I had originally set down was a positive outcome for Regina, but it was more subtle. When I submitted the story to Scott Dwyer for the excellent Phantasm/Chimera: An Anthology of Strange and Troubling Dreams, he said he wanted something more.  Something to really sink one's teeth into.  I gave him what he wanted and what I should have known from the beginning, because it really gave the story the proper finale. You'll just have to read it to see for yourself.

Where can you read it? In Occasional Beasts: Tales, my new collection. Please do! Let me know what you think of it. Order your copy at the link above or right HERE. Mwah!

Here's a piece of cool bird art. I bet those birds have many messages to spread around the world, eh? All except who the artist for the piece is, though it looks as though it was the cover for an album by a band called The Gloaming. Anyway, I like it.

Up next: the alternative translation of a rare book leads a man to a strange house, to find his lost love, who may or may not be dead. What the...?  You'll find out in "Vox Terrae."

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder--"Beautiful." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #10

"We are beautiful.

We of nine limbs and three pleasant smiles. We, with we one great silver eye and many large breasts. We, one of a kind and special because of it.

We are beautiful."


Sometimes, a sentence teases you into taking a writing trip that's so bizarre, you STILL don't know what to make of it.  So goes "Beautiful," whose lines above came to me out of nowhere, the writer just scribbling whatever comes up, but along with those lines, the voice was clear.  Crystal clear, though the voice itself, of our narrator, Belladonna, is anything but "clear." What I mean is, there's a distinct rough edge, one shaped by defiance and gargled stones and an understanding about one's self that's outside of the norm, because the norm has never been a part of Belladonna's life, that somehow came along with the sentences.

But what to do with it.  Really, what could I do with that opening?

Embrace it.  So I did. Here's what follows, the distinction of voice in full force:


They, male they and female they, sit across from we, ugly in they gray and navy-blue fabric, ashamed of they naked flesh. We understand they shame, though. Two arms, two legs, two eyes, two of they, everything so uniform. Just like all the rest of they.

Not special like we.

Granmama made we clothing before we born, sewed shirts and pants, but we did not fit those clothes. We are different. Special. Granmama still made clothing, for hobby, in Granmama’s sewing room. But we always naked to show off we beautiful we.


The tale was work. Keeping that tone, that voice in line, was not an easy task.  Especially as Microsoft Word Office was screaming at me with red squiggly lines throughout the text.  Didn't matter.  I had to lock in and do the work, especially in keeping the regular pronouns at bay, and keeping it all consistent. I enjoy pushing myself, forcing myself to stretch, and experimenting as well.  "Beautiful" was not easy in any way, but it was worth it.  I learned a lot about writing in creating this one.

Also: if you've been paying attention, you will have realized a lot of the tales in Occasional Beasts: Tales are from the female perspective and/or the perspective one would qualify as "other." (9 of 14, to be precise.) Though I am a middle-aged white male, I would be bored if all the characters in my tales originated from within that already battered box, or were related to it in some way. Hence, a love of slipping into the skin of diverse characters and hopefully doing them justice.

Also of note: toward the end, the Frankenstein element (perhaps), a kind of inverted, self-mutilation into self-revelation into true self, was something I don't remember seeing until I got there.  Part of the fun of writing, as noted before, is not knowing where it's all going to end, and being pleasantly surprised by the results.

Another also: Transformation.  I recently did an in-depth  --> Interview <-- over at Hellnotes, and we touched on transformation, and how transformation is a key element within a lot of my stories. Transformation is here...and as usual, it's not from a well-worn perspective that transformation takes hold.  Read the interview for more about that.

"Beautiful" is my most reprinted tale to date.  I remember when it first sold, Fossil Lake anthology editor Christine Morgan's reaction was (and I paraphrase): "I can't believe somebody sent this tale to me, something this good."  Well, that's close, the specs, I don't think I saved them, haha...  Then, in a reprint form, Ted E. Grau, editing Strange Eons, initially noted how striking the tale was, but didn't accept it for reprint because he needed more words. About a year later, for a special all-fiction issue of Strange Eons, I got the email from Grau, the tale having stuck with him, so he asked me if I would let him publish it in that issue. I, of course, said of course! It has appeared most recently in the Strange Behaviors: An Anthology of Absolute Luridity from NihilismRevisited.

Occasional Beasts: Tales is out in the wild and romping around, awaiting your perusal. Purchase your copy today. Read it, review it, rank it, love it, be disturbed my it, but go...Buy. Now! It loves you.  Love it back.

Here's a photo from the popular Twilight Zone episode, Eye of the Beholder.  I expect these folks understand a lot about how Belladonna feels.

Next up, strange messages from even stranger messengers: "Chrysalis."