During June of 2010, while voraciously reading anything I could get my hands on -- romance novels, literary journals, poetry books, classics -- I opened our then-town library's sole copy of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and devoured it cover to cover for the first time since junior high school. Inspired, I began work on a longish short story, "The Old Man and the Sea Monster." Set in the Tsunami-ravaged Pacific, my version took a more horrific spin when an old man and his young charge set forth across part of the ocean whose deep floor has been forced into the light by violent tectonic forces. Along with the geography, other underwater elements appear, including the sea monster telegraphed in the title. The story was written longhand on the tear-out sheets of a Moleskin notebook at a garden table on the deck of the home we lost. From there, the draft went into a designer folder and was filed away until the early spring of 2011, when I read Angela Craig's call for Ocean Stories. With our family's sea legs just again beneath us, I put "Old Man" on the computer, ran through my edits, and fired it off to Elektrik Milk Bath Press, where it found a beautiful home among an impressive Table of Contents of ocean-themed tales.
It was my pleasure to speak with my fellow Ocean Stories authors about the back-stories behind their wonderful -- and terrifying! -- stories.
Mike Allen and Charles M. Saplak on "Strange Wisdoms of the Dead": "Charlie Saplak and I wrote 'Strange Wisdoms of the Dead' nearly a decade ago, and I remember a lot more about its arduous journey into print than I do about the process of creating it -- I think what I can say with certainty is that the overall idea, the mariner's lingo, the plague-infested setting and the philosophical underpinnings all came from Charlie (a U.S. Navy veteran, by the way,) while the (to say the least) unfortunately-timed romance and the majority of the gruesome flourishes came from me.
'Strange Wisdoms' took a long time to find a home and an even longer time to appear in print once it found one (in the late lamented H.P. Lovecraft's Magazine of Horror.) Yet its arrival in the harbor of Ocean Stories made for smooth sailing. Charlie sent it in, Angela accepted, there was really nothing for me to do until the proofing stage -- and when that came about I hugely enjoyed reacquainting myself with all these old friends, with their dessicated flesh, their severed heads and broken limbs, their enigmatic banter, their unrequited loves and disturbing lusts."
Christine Rains on "A Ticket on the Train": "Fish are scary things. They've always seemed otherworldly to me. Especially the ones with teeth. I didn't want to write the next Jaws, though. When I wrote this story, I wanted to play with suspense. I want the reader to sit up and grip the book a little harder as their heart pounds in their chest. The mystery starts with the title. Innocuous, and not quite what you think it is. A hook to tug the reader along, building up the tension, until they finally discover what they caught."
Paul L. Bates on "Conquest": "'Conquest' was my first attempt at writing humor, and it got a bit slapstick-- sorry about that. (I've since written another a tad more refined.) The story of Captain Cook stumbling upon
only to find the natives on the beach throwing a party for him has always struck
me as funny. While the real event eventually led to the indigenous
population being decimated by smallpox, conquered and subjugated by the
invaders, I tried to imagine what would have happened if there had been a Hawaii somewhere in which the natives were
not nearly as naïve and whose magic was up to the task of dealing with their
self-righteous would-be exploiters." Pacific Island
Carla Richards on "Save Pinkeye": "The day I started 'Save Pinkeye' was one of those days when I started to type without any clue of what the story was going to be about. It just seemed to materialize from whatever odd little part of my brain gets to play when the internal editor takes a nap. I have always had both a fear of and fascination for sharks, and maybe writing a sissy shark will in some way counteract the years of childhood trauma caused by watching the movie Jaws. I hope people have as much fun reading the story as I had writing it."
Joshua Wolf on "Sailing the Bones": "One evening I was practically assaulted by the image of a sailor adrift on a dead whale that was quickly being consumed by sharks. Several drafts later, I came across two remarkable books of Hawaiian folklore that described the Shark God of Molokai, and guardian shark spirits known as aumakua. I had already written mer-people into the story, but I was fascinated by the idea of these Hawaiian shark beings that could be both helpful and deadly, and the story changed drastically under their influence. Anyone interested in the complex Hawaiian relationship with sharks should consult Martha Beckwith’s Hawaiian Mythology and W. D. Westerveldt’s Hawaiian Legends of Ghosts and Ghost-Gods.
This story is part of a cycle of tales about an utterly doomed crew of pirates. The crew that cast Francis Jansz adrift before the opening of 'Sailing the Bones' find themselves crossing a murderous desert in search of elusive treasure in the story 'Crossing the Line,' which will appear in the Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes sometime this fall. Please drop by my blog, Harpoon Coffee, for more news and information."
David Sklar on "Inheritance": "'Inheritance' began with a question: What happens to something that's an essential part of you, once you're no longer there to use it? Of course, a story is more than a question, or an idea. It needed the characters who brought these questions to life, and it pulled in a number of other situations as well: a friend's grandmother's beach house where my wife and I used to stay when we went to the Long Island Science Fiction Convention (I-Con); an estate sale I once visited where grief hung in the air; and the long, heart-stricken phone calls I overheard after my parents' divorce, before they reunited a year later.
'Inheritance' received a soul-crushing rejection letter from a major magazine, and then sat in a box until a publisher I know was looking for selkie and kelpie stories for the online journal Membra Disjecta. Since then, Membra Disjecta and the journal that rejected "Inheritance" have both gone out of print, and I'm thrilled to have it breathe again in Ocean Stories."
Laura Blackwell on "Triskelion": "'Triskelion' started as an experiment in writing a protagonist I wouldn't like as a real person. As the story formed, I came around and developed sympathy for Jessica. The opening line, 'Lend me your skin,' was the first thing written and one of the only ones that never changed. The albino shape-shifter and his silent wife were constant images as I wrote, and I still feel a chill when I think of them."
Tricia Scott on "Wicked Jenny": "The ocean fascinates me and it frightens me, especially at night. And well, if I’m being entirely truthful, all bodies of water larger than a kiddie pool send chills up my spine. This fear goes way back. I remember as a child watching my cousins damn up the creek near my house with rocks to make what we called 'the swimming hole.' The water, at least in my memory, was rarely anything other than brown and murky, the place of nightmares. Someone would yell 'snake' and they would all jump out. The next day they would do it again. It seemed safer to sit on the banks and read. I’d watch my father pull large snapping turtles from the same creek. There was no way I was getting in the water. Who knew what else was down there. I never learned to swim.
'Wicked Jenny' has its roots in that memory. There’s a creature in the water, a shape-shifter. The main character, Sela, was inspired by an antique photograph I came across while doing a sort of vision board for another story. The girl in the image was standing by the edge of a river and had a scared, haunted look on her face. What she was thinking when the shutter released? At the same time I was playing around with the story I was also jotting down ideas for circus-themed paintings. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that surely must be the reason for the appearance of tightrope walker, Johnnie Temple."
Jennifer Crow on "She Sells Sea Spells": "I love the ocean. When I was a kid, I used to stand on the rocky beach near my grandmother's house and make offerings to the waves. There's just so much power and mystery, so many secrets and riches the sea holds. '
Spells' grew out of that childhood love -- and reverence -- for the
ocean. What better way to get a second chance than by having the past washed away by the
tides? And when the sea takes what's most dear to us, we can only
hope that we'll have the chance to retrieve it, or at least say goodbye." She Sells Sea
Angela Charmaine Craig on the inspiration behind Ocean Stories: "I have always loved the ocean. I grew up in
and some of my earliest memories are of
walking the beach with my mother, looking for jellyfish and driftwood and
whatever other mysteries had washed ashore. She worked nights and my father, who
loved to fish, would take me and my sister to the pier with him in the
evenings. He liked to go all
the way out to the end where the water was deep, and with the sun down it was
cold out there, bone-chilling cold—even in summer—and so very dark. I spent
many nights staring down into that black water, terrified of what lurked
beneath me that I could not see. And no matter what my father said, I never
believed it was simply waves that were rocking the pier. I always felt
there was something out there way down beneath the surface—something huge and
beautiful and frightening—and I was convinced that, if I wasn’t careful, it
might decide to come for me." Corpus