The Agonizing Relief of Publication (Last Days of a Story Release)

So, tomorrow (that’s April 5th, a Tuesday, and…y’know…the standard release day for new books), Chiral Mad 3 will be released into the wild in paperback, eBook, and deluxe hardcover.   Editor Michael Bailey has a write-up here at the Written Backwards site.


The Table of Contents is a Who’s Who of Awesome.

Introduction: Observations on Horror Burnout – Chuck Palahniuk

01. The Poetry of Life – Richard Chizmar
02. The Last Rung on the Ladder – Stephen King
03. A Rift in Reflection – Hal Bodner
04. Windows, Mirrors, Doors – Jason V Brock
05. Prayer – Mort Castle
06. The Agonizing Guilt of Relief (Last Days of a Ready-Made Victim) – Paul Michael Anderson
07. The Black Crow of Boddinstraße – Emily Cataneo
08. A Flash of Red – Erinn Kemper
09. Red Runner vs. The Surgeon, Issue 18 – Jessica May Lin
10. The Dead Collection – Mercedes Murdock Yardley
11. Watch Me – Meghan Arcuri-Moran
12. The Bigger Bedroom – Josh Malerman
13. That Perilous Stuff – Scott Edelman
14. Know Your Code – Ramsey Campbell
15. 3-Dot People – Gene O’Neill
16. Silver Thread, Hammer Ring – Gary A. Braunbeck
17. Those Who Watch From on High – Eric J. Guignard
18. Blood Dust – Max Booth III
19. The Offering on the Hill – Richard Thomas
20. The Whipping Girls – Damien Angelica Walters
21. Seconds – Jack Ketchum

01. Fair – P. Gardner Goldsmith
02. Fail-Safe – Jonathan Balog
03. Folie à Deux – Sydney Leigh
04. Reflecting on Reflections – Bruce Boston
05. Mirror Image – Marge Simon
06. Black River #1 – Elizabeth Massie
07. Prescience – Rose Blackthorn
08. The Speed of Sound – Ciarán Parkes
09. Welcome Home, Darling – Stephanie M. Wytovich
10. Whisper #1 (A Warning) – Erik T. Johnson
11. Whisper #2 (A Prophecy) – Erik T. Johnson
12. Put Me to Dream – Stephanie M. Wytovich
13. Recognizing Trees – Ciarán Parkes
14. Arbitration – Rose Blackthorn
15. Black River #2 – Elizabeth Massie
16. Reflections Through the Raven’s Eye – Marge Simon
17. Beyond Symmetry – Bruce Boston
18. Folie à Plusieurs – Sydney Leigh
19. Insomnia in Reverse – Jonathan Balog
20. Promise – P. Gardner Goldsmith

But, right now, this is all about me, baby, and I’m up there, with my mouthful of a title, “The Agonizing Guilt of Relief (Last Days of a Ready-Made Victim)” and I just have one thing to say:

I hope you enjoy it.

The story was, initially, the meat of another story that, to this day, still hasn’t been written to my liking (although I still have the opening line burned into my head: “We, the dead children, came out of the forest and gathered around the fire of memory”).  I wrote a draft, called “And You Will Hear the Dead Sing”, and gave it both to my wife and to the writer Damien Angelica Walters–author of Paper Tigers, so-far my favorite book of 2016–for a beta-read.

They both gave the story back a few days later and said the same thing: The frame-story was meh–good idea, but not any great shakes–but the core story was something I needed to take another look at.  There’s something, yknow, there.

And so I did.

And the implications terrified me.

I’m not necessary a monster-writer; to me, the most terrifying things in the world, or out of this world, are the things inside our heads.  Even when there’s a monster of a kind (Like in “In the Nothing-Space, I Am What You Made Me” or “A Nice Town with Very Clean Streets”) in the story, to me, the most interesting and horrifying aspects are what the people do or are driven to do.  However, I’ve used shades of the supernatural in every single piece I’ve published to-date.

But, with the core story, there was nothing supernatural.  It was just these two brothers and their single father.  Not a monster of any kind.

Jesus Christ, it was a, dare I say it, a literary piece.

I want to say, now, that I hemmed and hawed, that I agonized over the story and the work I would have to put in.  But, honestly, I jumped at the chance because, really, while the idea that it was just these three characters and what happens over the course of one week in December of 1996 (a time period that factors into another piece, called “The Universe Is Dying”, but I’ll get to that later), I saw something, a sparkle, that was so much cooler than any ghost or elder god or monster.

Here was a chance to put what terrified me most–what, to me, is the core of all horror–into the front seat of a story.  To let it drive it instead of adding verisimilitude from the passenger seat.  I got to focus on the mind.

At the time, it was the darkest story I had ever written, with the darkest ending.  There was no ambiguity with this one, no grinning crypt keeper smirk from the sidelines.  I put the horror front and center and forced everyone, including myself, to look at it.

In the story of our lives, we all want to be the heroes, believe we are the heroes, but there are always those times when we can’t be; we’re not even the villains, we’re just…helpless.  We want to do the right thing, we strive and kill ourselves over it, and when the decision’s taken out of our hands, what we feel is…relief.  Horrific relief.  The hero image we hold up as a reflection of what we think we are shatters.

I never could’ve written that story if it’d included the original frame, as awesome as that opening line is.

But, without it, I was able to write “The Agonizing Guilt of Relief (Last Days of a Ready-Made Victim)”, which made another beta-reader go “Jesus Christ” when he got to the end (I think that’s good), and, when Michael Bailey saw it, snapped it right up for Chiral Mad 3.

From there, it opened me up massively.  It became the beginning piece of a (unintentional) mourning triptych that continued into “All That You Leave Behind” (appearing this summer in Perpetual Motion Machine’s Lost Signals anthology) and “The Universe Is Dying” (in the upcoming You, Human anthology).  All three stories deal with loss on some form and, beyond “Agonizing Guilt” and “Universe” sharing the same relative time frame of the end of 1996, unconnected.  “Agonizing Guilt” is the darkest piece.

[ahem, all three of those stories, along with the new reigning champion of the darkest thing I’ve ever written will be appearing together, possibly.  Ahem.]

I hope you like it.

And, if you do like it, talk it up, will ya?  Reviews, social media posts, that sort of thing.

[insert pre-order thing here, when pre-ordering becomes a thing.]


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