Monday, October 29, 2018

Sex and Drugs and Weirdness abounds with "The Johnny Depp Thing." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes # 13

One of the keys to writing is to pay attention to the world around you. And to the people you know, because they might tell you something that will trigger your imagination and lead you down the darkest paths. "The Johnny Depp Thing" was born out of a tale my friend, Michelle, told me about. The tale was pretty much a drug-addled bit o' weirdness highlighted by what she said was "these dragging sounds outside of the door." If I remember correctly, she'd gone somewhere south, perhaps even Mexico, and was hanging out with a bunch  of bad folks into drugs, and there was a point in the evening when she was sitting on the floor against the door to an apartment and...those sounds happened. (I'm banking some of my recollection is off, but you get the gist.)

This thought came to me, set the words loose, and the weirdness took a truly bizarre turn, what with the added element of Johnny Depp, the actor, as the focal point, an escape route, in a way, for a woman in a bad relationship. But not only is it a bad relationship, her tendency is to latch on to whatever her present boyfriend is into. So, if he's into heavy-duty drugs, well, she's along for the ride. Not strong enough to stand on her own two feet, she hitches a ride into the darkest avenues of the lost soul. Or something like that.

Drugs have played a big role in a few of my tales, as well as my Bram Stoker Award nominated novel, Riding the Centipede. I don't exactly know why, as I've done minimal drugs in my life...but as noted above, I pay attention to people, listen to their tales, and since a couple of my best friends have had considerable drug experiences, welllllll…

Why Johnny Depp?  Partly Michelle's fault--well, a strong element of her character insinuates the character of Erika Jonkers, our narrator of the tale. She likes Depp.  She likes her bad boys--she being Michelle--so since I sculpted Erika from Michelle, he became her fantasy.  Partly I just needed a male sex symbol, one who could sway her into giving all of herself...even if it means giving into something that's not quite what it seems. When you've been in abusive relationships, the illusion of something better will suffice. At least that's my thinking here.

Depp, soon after I completed the tale, went off and had an [alleged or not, I don't remember specs] abusive finale to his marriage, so it kind of fit, in a weird way, with the type of man Erika goes for, though he's not even "him"--the real Johnny Depp--to be honest, haha... I mean, it's all fiction and warped out of true. She may pick bad boys, but he's not even a he, he's an it.

(And did I mention Clark Gable makes an appearance, too?!  You'll see...)

There was a point, though, with the Depp controversy going on, that I contemplated changing the sex symbol from him to some other actor. Ethan Hawke was a momentary stand-in, but I decided to stick with Depp, baggage and all.

While I was writing this tale, I was reading Scott Nicolay's excellent debut collection, Ana Kai Tangata: Tales of the Outer the Other the Damned and the Doomed. Something of his style infected the original version of this tale. As in, details abounded!  The original version clocks in at 6800 words; the version in the collection ends up around 5600 words. If there's ever a Scott Nicolay tribute anthology, this tale needs to be included! Perhaps the extended version, haha...

Names: Also at that time, I had discovered, via my girlfriend, a south African poet named Ingrid Jonker. Erika's last name is almost hers, adding an "s," as you can see. A nod to a great poet...kind of...

The tale is tonally the blackest of black humor, yet totally a weird tale as well. You'll see in the snippet here, as Erika leans against that door, her boyfriend, Ransom, asleep in a recliner, while the dragging sounds have stopped and something calling itself Johnny Depp expresses its desire to be her new boyfriend.


“So you really do look like Johnny Depp?” Erika asked one more time, for triple, hell, quadruple no lie confirmation.

“Spittin’ image. And Johnny wants to be your new boyfriend. Johnny wants a kiss.”

“You want to be my—Oh. Oh! What the…”

Erika quickly turned to Ransom, noted she hadn’t awakened him with her squeals, then turned back to the door.

Glistening moistly and sliding up from the slit at the bottom of the door was what looked like a tongue. She gathered it was about as thick as her skinny wrists, but considering what it was, that was pretty damn impressive. And freaky. It stopped about twelve inches from the floor, the tip tapping the wood left and right.

“I want a kiss,” the voice said from the other side of the door. Johnny Depp’s voice. Johnny Depp.

Erika had never read in any gossip rags or read on the Hollywood Sleaze Underground site she frequented online about Johnny Depp’s super long tongue. She even wondered how he could talk if his tongue was hanging out like that.

“I can’t… I mean…”

She didn’t know what to say as she watched the tongue tap, tap, tapping, as if looking for that kiss she wasn’t sure she was up to. She couldn’t even picture putting that thing in her mouth.

Erika remembered way back when she was a teenager and digging KISS before she got good taste and moved on to punk and hardcore, fantasizing about Gene Simmons’ flicking tongue while she masturbated.

Christ, imagine what Johnny Depp’s super long tongue would feel like? Especially since it’s attached to him!

Erika also remembered reading on the Hollywood Sleaze Underground site that Simmons had had a cow’s tongue or donkey’s tongue sewn on to the end of his, like an extension. Like she sometimes added to her short black Betty Boop do. Hair Extensions. She figured Johnny Depp had to have done this, too. No way this was real.

“All real, dude,” the voice said.

Again with the cool mental connection. As if their thoughts were already making love.


Also of note: In researching heroin and making up my own form of heroin-based drug for the tale, for months afterward I got spam in my email from rehab or related places, wanting to help me with my, um...issue...

"The Johnny Depp Thing" is one of the four original tales included in my new collection, Occasional Beasts: Tales, hyper-linked right there, so click on the title and go buy your copy now!
Please and thank you!

Here's a photo of Mr. Depp reading some Hunter S. Thompson, before he gets into Occasional Beasts: Tales.

The final entry in my Story Notes is next. You'll meet "The Land Lord," and a whole town under his ominous influence.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Sinister Power of the Alternative Translation of "Vox Terrae." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #12

The original title of this tale was "The Alternative Translation." My girlfriend is a translator, so I'm sure I was influenced by that as I wrote the tale.  I'm also a fan of words being something more than words. You know this already if you've been paying attention. My novella, the title story of my mini-collection, Autumn in the Abyss, is the best example of this. Another would be my story from the Joseph S. Pulver Sr. edited Walk on the Weird Side anthology, 'Eouem Chumkpaa." Yeah, say that three times fast. So, words, living things, or something else, yes, I dig that idea.

Here's a snippet from the tale that leads you along that line of thinking...


The necessity of this journey wore me down, whittled the bark off the thin branch, though not with the goal of sharpening my perceptions. No, attrition was the goal, shedding the outer shell, shedding to reveal that which lived beneath until all that remained was nothing more than memory; then dust.

At the doorway, I stopped. Candles everywhere, colors richer than ever imagined—pure white heart wrapped in melting blue glass that rippled in the hemorrhaging crimson sun that devoured the room. Blackthorne stood front and center, a dark blemish, details left to my imagination. Not a good thing under the circumstances.

“Language is not simply spoken.” A buzzing—flies hovering over a carcass. “You think your race dictates the rules of this world, of everything? You think you are even the dominant species of this planet? There are many layers. You don’t even know how to cross between them, as my race does, and we are low on the totem pole of this planet’s residents. Language is not simply spoken as you understand it. It is experienced in many different ways.

“Would you like me to show you the alternative translation that Alicia knows so intimately, Kenneth?”

I nodded weakly, the words beyond my tongue, defeated. But I needed to know.

 The searing light flickered, then darkness…


This tale might perhaps be perceived as OTT description-wise, but man, it was so much fun to write.   Even as some of the sequence that follows the above sample was written years ago. I mentioned "Dandelions" was the oldest tale in the collection, but this tale contains the oldest handful of paragraphs, manipulated into shape to fit the parameters of what this tale needed.

That's how writers sometimes do it, y'know?  I had an old tale called, "Unveiling the Hell Machine," in which, not unlike a man opening Barker's Lament Configuration, the narrator ends up in a place where torments beyond his imagination are undertaken. He ends up being devoured then shat out and remolded into something almost human. Aaaand, you're gonna love this--I should find the paper manuscript, because the version I have in a file is incomplete; the typed up version has dates and makes me wonder (wonder what, JC? Well...)--well, in the original, after the person put through hell is shat out, he eventually becomes...President of the United States!!!  An evil, malignant president, with designs on annihilation of the world

Prescient, eh?

Fucking hell, I just remembered that was where it all ended up. I really need to pull the box out of the closet and see about the timeline. For all I know, I predicted the current abhorrent and quite dismal state of affairs, to put it mildly.

Anyway, in "Vox Terrae," we hook up with Kenneth as he searches for the alternative translation of the occult tome upon which the story was eventually named (as suggested by publisher Jordan Krall of Dunhams Manor Press, who published the standalone chapbook in which it was featured), with his sights set on finding out the meaning as it pertains to the death by suicide of his girlfriend, who suggested the alternative translation was her modus operandi for killing herself.

Oh, what a dark and sticky web of supernatural oddness I weave.

It gets even weirder as he collects his old friend, who's also into exploring books and ideas that tend toward obtaining forbidden knowledge, Ivan Sangkor--a character based on a person I met while looking over the occult section in a book store...just as I wrote in the story, haha...--and they head to Northern California to speak to Lorraine Blackthorne, the woman responsible for the alternative translation.

All kinds of surreal fun follows, especially within the old house she lives in.  A house that never seems settled.  A house that also makes a completely different appearance in a tale in final edits I'm presently writing, "Winter in the Wasteland."  I don't think that will be the last time I deal with that monstrous house, either.

I've said enough.  There's a lot going on here and it's all rather grim when you get down to it, but an entertaining kind of grim, I hope.

"Vox Terrae" can be found in my latest collection, the reason I'm even writing these Story Notes.
You can buy Occasional Beasts: Tales by clicking on Occasional Beasts: Tales because that will take you to the link. So do that and enjoy this tale...and the rest.

Here's a picture of an old grimoire, perhaps a cousin to Vox Terrae...


Next up, the penultimate tale in the collection, which features a guest appearance by...Johnny Depp.  Kind of...  

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."