So, uh, this is awkward. Kinda. In a good way. I promise.
As a writer who does most of his work in the short form, it’s a matter of sending a story to a market (or turning in a requested story by a deadline), and then, if it’s accepted, waiting around for whenever it comes out so you can promote the ever-loving fuck out of it. Months and, at times, years may pass between writing and publication.
And then you have those times when, like, a half-dozen goddamn stories all hit the market within two months of each other.
This is rare. Truthfully.
Currently, I have three stories floating around that all came out within the past two weeks, with another two due out before the end of the year. This is on top of a story that came out at the end of July–“Wants and Needs” which came out in the excellent anthology Suspended in Dusk 2, edited by Simon Dewar, which I just know you’ve already picked up. (Right? Right. Goddammit. I got a kid to raise, here.)
But that all means that I haven’t done nearly-enough whoring to satisfy my guilty conscience, which seems to be the only remnant of my Catholic upbringing not washed away by atheism. So! To make up for it, I figured I’d break down what went in to all the stories of 2018 and where you can find them. If nothing else, whenever I do another collection (maybe in 2021 if people still like me?), I can just look this posting up.
So! The stories.
- Wants and Needs – Suspended in Dusk 2
In 2014, before buying our house (which we had been renting at the time), my wife and I shopped around, having a realtor take us out to various homes to see if anything caught our eye. This wasn’t us dicking around before buying the house we already lived in–we legitimately thought of moving.
One of the homes we visited was a kit-job on top of one of the mountains that surround the valley we live in. The way up was a gravelled road, cut down the center by years-old runoff that played hell on the suspension of the Pontiac Sunfire I drove at the time (I already knew, driving up, we were never going to live at whatever house was at the top, just because of that). One of those multi-unit mailboxes, the kind I remembered from growing up in townhouse complexes, sat at the bottom.
I was a city kid and it was strange enough to live in a small town where the entire population was only the size of my high school population times ten (I’m not exaggerating). The entire frame of mind needed to living on top of a goddamned mountain was not something I could get my head around. The realtor said that most of the homes–lavish estates, most of them were–were summer places. The house we looked at was far more modest and, honestly, nothing like the house that shows up in the story. Still, the frame of mind to live up there, with hills and forests all around, stuck with me. What kind of person would want that? How would they react if tragedy struck? When I heard of a hunting accident in the news not long after, the story sparked and then caught fire when I did some reading up on the wendigo curse.
The result was a story that could be supernatural or completely in the protag’s head. I hopefully leave it somewhat ambiguously for the reader. It seems to be getting a lot of play with reviewers, so that’s nice.
You can pick up either a TPB or ebook of Suspended in Dusk 2 (which you really should and not just for my story; Damien Angelica Walters and Bracken MacLeod have stories in there that will destroy you) here.
Speaking of Bracken MacLeod…
2. How We Broke (with Bracken MacLeod) – Chiral Mad 4
This is one of two novellas I have coming out this year, premiering only last week, at the end of October.
Long-story-slightly-less-long: I’d heard Michael Bailey was doing a fourth go-around with his Chiral Mad series, but with a catch: only collaborations allowed. I’d been in Chiral Mad 3 (with the story “The Universe Is Dying”–the image for that story is the front page of this very website from Bones Are Made to be Broken), and wanted into CM4 in a big-bad way.
But who the hell could I collaborate with? I’ve never written something with someone else before. Moreover, I never even show people my writing until a few drafts had been done. Collaborating meant showing people a real warts-and-all experience. I’d have to find someone I trusted, someone whose work I respected, something I thought I could get down with in the idea-tanks.
So I messaged Bracken MacLeod.
I’d read Stranded, of course, and some of his short fiction. Bracken writes a clear, propulsive line that I often strive for (except he makes it look far more effortless than I), and he writes from a more secular, less supernatural place. I don’t, but I like to, and even when I’m playing with multiple dimensions and folklore monsters, I like to present it with all the flatness of a gritty crime novel. So, I wanted to work with Bracken.
And, son of a bitch, he agreed.
I have no idea how we came up with the basic framework for “How We Broke”, which is a novella of 20,000 words. I remember we wanted it to be a novella, we wanted it to be about siblings, we knew we wanted it to be ambiguous as to what if anything was supernatural, and we knew we wanted to talk about the overcoming of trauma and the way past traumas never quite let us go. When we hit upon the structuring device of Polaroid pictures, the fucker ran because we now had an escalation of tension in place. We bounced a summary back and forth to each other–more pre-writing than I ever do and far less than Bracken does–then started writing.
I remember Bracken offering to start and me asking if he would mind if I did because I could visualize the first scene perfectly. After that, we ping-ponged the manuscript for a month until we had a rough draft almost 30K in length. We took turns cutting and stream-lining, and, throughout all of this, realized we didn’t know where one person’s writing ended and another began. Like I said, I know I started the story, but we’d both gone over it so many times that I’d have to pull up the very first file to see what I wrote and what ended up being printed. Bracken’s style and mine wound up merging beautifully together and, while the story is rough for me to read (it goes dark, both literally and figuratively), it’s an absolute blast.
I really need to write more with Bracken. Like, this is a thing that needs to happen sooner rather than later. I wonder if he’d be up for it.
Anyway. You can pick up Chiral Mad 4 in TPB, ebook, and hardcover here.
3. Every Apocalypse Is Personal – Dark Moon Digest 32/33
This, which came out only a couple of days from when I’m writing this post, was written in one sitting, after I took a day off work for jury-duty only to be dismissed. It’s an alien invasion generation gap story, basically “what if Generation X kids were really the result of alien-human breeding?” I would joke that this is my sex alien story, but really it’s about the lengths a man would go to in order to keep his adopted family together, even at the end of the world. Also, rarity of rarities, the story is short–roughly 4,000 words, which is not at all common for me. (Go ask Max Booth III and Lori Michelle, the editors of DMD who have also worked with me before.)
You can scoop up this story, along with poetry by Josh Malerman and fiction by the likes of Matt Hayward and others, here.
On the subject of aliens (sort-of)…
4. Guardian – Tales from the Lake, Vol. 5
This came out, literally, yesterday.
I had the title long before I had the story. This happens. I don’t even know why. It’s suitable, but “Guardian” isn’t flashy like “Bones Are Made to be Broken”, “The Universe Is Dying”, or “In the Nothing-Space, I Am What You Made Me”.
Still, I started noodling all the nuances of the word. You think of guardian like a parent or someone who has to care for small children. But, I thought, aren’t friends guardians of each other, if it’s a true friendship (which, let’s be honest, is rare)? In the midst of this, I thought of my cat Bender, who passed away from old age (he was 19), and the Harlan Ellison story “The Deathbird” and how Ellison–in that story and others–will break story conventions to deliver the subtext or to shade in some areas.
From this, a story about friendship, the center of creation, and beings from beyond time and space came into being. With a nod to Harlan, I underscored the subtext of the story with a 2nd-person tangent on Bender the cat–a section that, a dozen or so drafts and copy-editing later, still makes me burst into tears because I miss that son of a bitch so much (moving on; I’m going to start crying again)–much like Ellison did for his dog in “The Deathbird”.
Like “Wants and Needs” this story is getting some play, albeit mixed. One reviewer enjoyed it even though they admitted they had no idea what the hell was going on half the time, but another reviewer raved about it and a person friend-requested me on social media solely on the strength of the story.
You can pick up Tales from the Lake, Vol. 5 here.
So that’s what’s out right now, but before the end of the year, I’ll have two more stories coming out, one of them a novella almost as long as the one I wrote with Bracken:
A. “I Can Give You Life” – Ashes and Entropy
(I love both of these covers. The one on the left is by Pat R. Steiner, my illustrator for Bones Are Made to be Broken. The one on the right is by CV Hunt, the awesome writer behind Baby Hater, Ritualistic Human Sacrifice, and Cockblock. I love both designs. I wonder if Robert S. Wilson would send me a copy of both…)
Anyway, I feel bad for Robert. He asks me one night if I had anything fitting the theme of “Lovecraftian noir” or if I’d be willing to write a piece for it. I said, what do you know, I just so do (I’d been asked to write something for another place, and I tried, but I quickly realized I would have to write a novella when the editors only wanted a short piece, so bowed out) and it’s not some trunk piece. It’s a novella!
You could feel Robert’s heart sink, even through a computer screen.
He asked to read it, anyway, and–he told me later–kept coming back to it. A lot of strange-god stories operate from the premise of gods being forgotten by the faithful (Ellison wrote a whole collection around it, even). “I Can Give You Life” flips it–what if a god grew tired of the faithful’s devotion and wanted to escape but couldn’t? I got into the world I’d made–a 1950-ish story set in Northern Virginia, when interstates were becoming a real thing that could connect towns and cities greater than ever before.
Ultimately, Robert decided he had to have it and I was legitimately surprised–it is a novella, for fuck’s sake–and delighted. It’s, as far as I know, the longest piece in the book, and I hope it delivers as much as the stories everyone else brings (seriously, when you pre-order, check out that TOC; Jesus Christ, my imposter-syndrome goes off the fucking charts every time I look at it).
You can pre-order Ashes and Entropy here.
B. “Well, You Asked for a Miracle” – War on Christmas
I blame Bracken for this one.
He’d written a short story called “Can I Whisper It?”, which I had as a chapbook. I’d never thought to write a Christmas story before and Bracken knocked a crime story set at Christmas that knocked it out of the fucking park.
I wanted to write a Christmas story, as well. For the longest time, I had no fucking ideas. And then, an announcement call went up from ChiZine–which, if you like/write dark fiction, you stand to attention–and I thought, “I have to write a Christmas story and I have to get ChiZine to like it.”
“Well, You Asked for a Miracle” is about rent-a-cops and mall Santas and Pagan gods on the hide out. I wrote it over eight hours one Sunday when my wife and daughter were out of the house. When I got the notice, a few months later, that Sandra and Craig liked it, I was at my wife’s family reunion, sitting by the pool. I yelled so loudly everyone turned to look at me.
No pre-order up yet on this one, but I’ll promote the hell out of it when it does.
All right, it’s late, I’m tired, and there’s 51,000 words of new Paul Michael Anderson fiction for you to read–27,000 of it ready to read right now. So what are you waiting for?