In the master bedroom of our previous home, placement of my antique dresser with its beautiful mirror and our gigantic antique oval mirror on a corresponding length of wall created an eerie multiplicative effect when viewed from certain angles. It struck me that my reflection was performing a modern version of that old stage schtick where two actors ham it up in front of a mock mirror, one pretending to be the other's reflection. Until, of course, the fake reflection messes up, and the game is revealed. This concept dogged me until Thanksgiving Day of 2011, when I sat down to write a story's longhand draft based on some very bare bones. Thanksgivings are a special time in our home. We always host an open house and a monstrous meal, with more side dishes and homemade pies than our guests can fathom or devour. Since I was a teenager, I've also had the running tradition of penning a complete short story in honor of the day -- thanks offered up to the Muse, as it were. I dashed off most of the first draft of my story "Phantomime" before dinner got served, finished it after dessert and the departure of our guests, and then filed it away until a personal invitation arrived from visionary publisher Marc Ciccarone and the fine editorial staff at Blood Bound Books, who'd previously featured my story "The Libidonomicon" in their brilliant erotic horror anthology, Steamy Screams. A select list of writers were being given a shot at appearing in a new project, one which would literally drip with pedigree. I fired off an edited draft of "Phantomime", which made it into an impressive Table of Contents in the stunning end result, Blood Rites: An Invitation to Horror.
Many of my fellow luminaries within the covers of this incredible book shared the back stories behind their stories.
Mark C. Scioneaux on "The Lady with Teeth Like Knives": "I had just watched the movie Insidious, and there is a part where it focuses on this horrific ghost lady, smiling with a row of sharp teeth. That image stuck with me the most from the movie, and I decided to make a story around it. In fact, I wrote the entire story while sitting in my truck at work one day. Just penned it out quick on a yellow paper tablet, went home, and then typed it up. The tale is simple, and follows the story of a man who thinks he got away with murder. However, he finds himself haunted by a sinister ghoul, a lady whose teeth resemble knives."
Lisa Morton on "The True Worth of Orthography": "The idea behind ‘The True Worth of Orthography’ -- that the actual practice of writing is a magical act -- stems from my love of a series of books called the Abrams Discoveries series. These are beautifully designed little non-fiction books that cover everything from the history of rock music to the Aztecs to vampires, and they did one on the history of writing that was especially good. While I was reading it, I had this thought that writing is like telepathy -- we exchange thoughts without speaking - and that led to the notion that it's essentially a form of magic. The story, which centers on a magician who enacts spells by the physical act of writing them, grew out of that."
Maria Alexander on "Saturnalia": "In 1999, I had a really effed-up dream. The dream was not only scary as hell, but extremely detailed and well plotted. It included an entire ensemble of strangers, a brother named Joshua who had died, and a town with a secret so dark it could only hide in a Louisiana swamp. The details of the dream were so deeply carved into my memory and psyche that I even named the main character after myself. I didn’t act like myself in the dream, though. I was naive, trusting, religious, forgiving…a person sure to find trouble."
Aric Sundquist on "The Candle and the Darkness": "This story originated from a central image of a mother and daughter fending off a growing darkness with nothing but a candle's flame. For three months, I pondered where the story would go, until one day while doing research online for another story, I came across an old Roman Catholic prophecy called 'The Three Days of Darkness'. The content fit perfectly with the story, so I infused the two together, added a bit of creepy back story, and completed a rough draft within a week."
John McNee on "The Lullaby Man": "The Lullaby Man was the title of the first horror story I ever wrote, back in 2006. At the time, I wasn't sure if I was even capable of writing a real horror story, so I challenged myself to come up with the darkest concept I could. What I arrived at was the notion of a supernaturally-gifted pedophile who masquerades as the imaginary friend of his young victims to gain their trust. That original draft (which took the form of a patient-psychiatrist confessional), is completely unpublishable, but the central idea stayed in the back of my head and, when Blood Bound Books invited me to submit to Blood Rites, I decided to revisit it and try to do it justice. By this point, I'd developed the idea of telling the tale from the perspective of an adult survivor who had written her experiences off as childhood nightmares. When she discovers the Lullaby Man really exists, she feels compelled to seek him out, whatever the risks."
Chad McKee on "Sleep Grins": "The source of inspiration for this story was, at least indirectly, my newborn daughter. The whole process of having a child was fascinating. As a biologist by training, I took that sometimes-irritating habit of close observation home with me and basically studied my child. The way she slept was especially interesting -- the little mannerisms and ticks and so on. One thing was the way she made occasional smiles while napping -- the neurologist will tell you that it's not intentional, just the brain processing something, making more connections. Totally subconscious. Yet, she also sometimes screamed and thrashed about as if in a nightmare prior to those grins. It got me thinking: what was deep in your mind, even as a baby? Memories or even memories of feelings? As an adult, maybe you could have those little grins in your sleep, too. Maybe even when your subconscious mind is plotting revenge."
Daniel O'Connor on "The Binding": "I like things. Real things -- books, vinyl albums, CDs, DVDs. Things we can hold., smell, and put on shelves. Not a fan of downloads of any kind. I also love classic rock, mystery, and horror. I wanted to meld all of that into a story that could evoke past, present, and future, so I came up with this: 'Every Thursday night, four guys would meet at a local bar. Watch some football. Play some darts. This Thursday, the fate of the entire human race rests in their hands. They also enjoy the jukebox.' Astute rock n' roll fans might notice that, in a way, the entire story was inspired by a certain classic album. Let me know if you get it! My email address is AuthorDanO@aol.com."
Douglas J. Lane on "The Trapdoor": I live in a pier-and-beam house like the one in the story, which is how many of the older bungalow homes in Houston are constructed. Because it sits on pylons a couple of feet off the ground instead of a foundation, I hear house-settling noises in the night -- thumps, pops, creaks -- or animals in the crawlspace or, occasionally, in a wall. One night, I heard what sounded like a door closing, and started thinking: what if there was a way to get inside from under the house that I'd never noticed? But nothing interesting came through the door when I imagined it. So I flipped it around: what if there was a trapdoor in the floor that led somewhere other than the crawlspace under the house? Where would it go? And as I wrote, I understood it went to the place of my characters' secrets and guilt. Once I discovered what was waiting for them, the story came together quite quickly."
K. Trap Jones on:"The Butterfly": "To me, there's nothing scarier than the unknown. True fear happens during a situation that is uncontrollable. 'The Butterfly' is a narrative told through the eyes of a common villager who is caught within the path of God's fury. With no remorse and no sympathy towards those it devours, a mysterious storm barrels through a peaceful village. I chose to wrap this horrific tale with imagery of a beautiful butterfly, which symbolizes the good in life even within times of death and decay. There are events that we humans will never be able to explain and never be able to outrun. 'The Butterfly' was inspired by the song, 'Creeping Death' by Metallica."
Matt Moore on "The Leaving": "Sometimes, we don't know why, just what is. This could be the friendship that's lasted decades. Or, for the people of Jefferson Hollow, you don't go out after dark when a barnyard stink pervades the small town. As a small town boy, I watched box stores force mom-and-pop shops to close, local restaurants fold while chains sprung up, and woodlands cut down for cookie-cutter developments. Replacing centuries-old Yankee traditions with cultural homogeny was itself a horror story. For years, I've wanted to explore these themes. Good horror needs to be grounded in reality, providing an accessible and emotional anchor for the reader. 'The Leaving' was the perfect story for this. And I wanted to explore one more idea: small town legends. As a horror story, the legend needed to conceal something monstrous. Haunted houses and the boogeyman have been done, so I turned to something innocuous into a deadly object of terror. 'The Leaving,' set in a grown town thanks to a new highway, balances secrets the locals keep from new arrivals with the secrets we keep from the people we love. We tend to believe that concealing an awful truth will hurt less than revealing it -- this rarely ends well."
Desmond Warzel on "The Final One Percent": "I recently had another story ('Cosmetic Procedures') performed on an episode of Cast of Wonders, the fabulous young-adult-oriented podcast featuring stories of the fantastic. I took the opportunity to dispense a small bit of advice for would-be writers: 'Don't waste time being bored. Look around. The pieces of your stories are everywhere, and only you can make the connections.' 'The Final One Percent' is one example of such a story; its inspiration lay in a single observation, made in passing and then stored away for mulling over at leisure: a book review website titled Blood of the Muse. The site ceased updating nearly two years ago, but the name has always stuck with me. The Muses are classical goddesses; I'm no expert on mythology, but I know that Greek gods perform human biological functions (such as eating), and they also possess bodily fluids. What, I wondered, would the blood of a muse be like? If it could be extracted, would it retain the essence of its former owner, and how might it be put to use? Interestingly, one major online magazine includes 'Muse' stories in a lengthy list of fictional topics they see too often among their submissions. Certainly my memory is not beyond question, but I'm well-read enough to have encountered most major cliches at least once, and I'm almost positive I've never actually seen such a story. Perhaps writers and editors shy away because it seems as though it ought to have been done before. In any case, I'm rather pleased with my interpretation of the idea, and its appearance in Blood Rites is a welcome vindication."
Nathan Crowder on "Cold Comfort of Silver Lake": "The story comes from an unexpected list of influences. The primary one is a long-established dislike of swimming in lakes. The dream in the story is a dream that I had as my last marriage went through an especially rocky patch. The setting is loosely modeled on the small mining town I grew up in -- and who knows what's lurking in the water there?"
Adrian Ludens on "Life and Limb": I enjoy researching and writing weird western stories. That research naturally led to the topic of the Civil War. I had published a story a couple of years ago that involved Confederate zombies and I had so much fun that I wanted to revisit the era. That period in history lends itself well to supernatural/horror fiction, in my opinion. I read that the term 'Sawbones' originated during the Civil War. Thanks to a combination of projectiles (not bullets but mini-balls) that did a lot of physical damage, and the lack of cleanliness and hygiene in the tent hospitals, many a soldier lost his life -- or at least a limb. Doctors found it easier to actually saw the limb off rather than try to repair the extensive damage. The title and the final sentence of the story popped into my head first, and from there I hammered out the rest of the tale with zeal. My local critique group suggested some minor revisions, and the Blood Bound Books editors (who are always excellent about offering helpful critiques) asked me to clarify one key point. I hope readers enjoy the end result."
Brad C. Hodson on "The Philosopher's Grove": "Ancient Greece and Rome have always been obsessions of mine. I've also always been interested in the origin of words and concepts. Reading about how our modern idea of 'demon' was just a corruption of the Greek idea of 'daemon' (a corruption that happened largely through an misinterpretation of the Bible when translated from Greek to Latin to Englilsh), I started to wonder what it would have been like if the corruption of the concept had been a very real thing. Xenocrates (and later Aristotle) both wrote about evil spirits and how the daemon could be subverted, so it seemed a natural fit. Plus I love the idea of taking famous figures like Aristotle and Menander that we think of as stuffy old men in pristine robes standing around all day and showing how they really were: lustful, arrogant, raging drunkards. In other words, they were just like us."