Friday, March 7, 2014

Ride the TWISTED BOULEVARD

I grew up in the country, in a tiny cottage surrounded by cool green woods, one thin dirt road up from the shore of Cobbett's Pond in Southern New Hampshire.  The paternal side of my family hailed from the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts roughly twenty miles south.  Some of my favorite memories involve summer day visits to the city to see my grandmother, the late, great Lovey Norris (a talented writer and surely one of the finest human beings ever to grace the Earth) -- the smells of backyards and back alleys, hot pavement, even the light, spilling down without a tree line to hold back the heat.  When the dog days hit, however, I also remember how blessed I felt returning to those tall pines, that cool lake, the shade.  I loved our country home, but I'm always nostalgic when I think upon the city and the roll it occupied in my boyhood.

When the luminous Angela Craig, my editor and publisher at Elektrik Milkbath Press, announced a call for an urban-spec anthology of short fiction, I was intrigued and also inspired.  I wanted in.  So much so, I submitted three tales to the call. The story accepted into Twisted Boulevard: Tales of Urban Fantasy, my sinister "Malediction on a Gray Summer Morning", came to me on a hot August day in 2012, a Monday directly following an all-day literary party held at a friend's house.  I'd wandered into my then-kitchen in the apartment we rented before buying our own home a few months later, pulled out the coffee pot, filled it with water, and then set the empty carafe on the stretch of formica counter top while I spooned coffee into the fresh filter. Still super-inspired from the previous day's gathering, I suppose, my mind fixated on the carafe -- whether I'd set it too close to the edge of the counter.  If it fell and shattered, I'd be out of luck.  And likely quite cranky after being denied my morning brew.  That scenario set the stage for the opening of a story: coffee pot well away from the drop to death, only it slides over the edge of the counter anyway and spills to the floor.  Clearly, the gravity must be off!  A normal start to a normal morning, only the world we've woken to is askew, and once you walk outside your front door, just how wonky things have become quickly sets in.  That was the start to the story, a first draft of which dashed itself off that day and the next.  It is an honor to be included among the twenty-seven stories that inhabit the Boulevard.

"I’m a city girl at heart and I always think of the city as being made of equal parts beauty and grit," says Angela when asked about her inspiration in creating this particular anthology.  "I love the lights… the noise… the constant motion… the raw energy of it all.  People always warn you about the dangers of the city and yes, they are there.  But there is so much magic there, too. Walk downtown at night -- you can feel it surging around you.  Visit a dance club, see if there isn’t something otherworldly happening there.  Watch the people on the streets.  How can you be sure they are what you think they are?  After all, the city, by its very nature, remains in a constant state of flux -- what better place could you think of to hide? That’s why I love urban fantasy. I love to see what’s hidden in the shadows.  I love discovering things aren’t always what they seem.  And, of course, my tastes tend to run to the darker edge so many of these stories -- even those that are maybe not explicitly horror -- tend to have."
Many of my fellow authors in Boulevard shared the back-stories behind their stories.
Paul L. Bates on "Phoenix":  "The concept of regeneration -- physical as well as metaphorical/allegorical -- within the natural order has always fascinated me, and the phoenix legend is one of the most compelling versions of that notion. There are a great many accounts from all over the world, each with its own take on the fabulous bird which perishes in order to be reborn, sometimes from its own ashes, sometimes from an egg it has laid. I had just read Angela Carter’s well-received 1979 collection of dramatically re-imagined folk/fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber, on the recommendation of a friend, and was very impressed with both the author’s crisp prose as well as her feminist/romantic vision. So as is my wont, I wrote “Phoenix” as a tribute to her, putting my own quasi-romantic slightly sardonic male spin upon the tale."
M. E. Garber on "Marika's Way":  "For a couple years I lived in N├╝rnberg, Germany, and visited a coffee shop that became the basis for the one in this story. The stairs twisted unevenly down to the restrooms, the stone block of the walls looked ancient, and a patina of graceful age sat upon the entire building like some kind of magic charm. Oh, how I loved that place then, and how I miss it still!  But the underlying impetus came from something I saw at the 2000 World's Fair in Hannover. Remember all the strife in the former Soviet-bloc eastern European nations during the 90's?  The movie the Czech Republic showed viewers upon entering was visceral: images from warfare, starting slowly and moving faster, and faster, until the attendees were besieged by the images of pain, torment and horror from around the world. And then -- smiling faces, sunshine. The voice-over told how Czechoslovakia dissolved peacefully into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, how they stopped the war raging in their hearts before it waged in their streets. The lights came up, and we were free to enter the physical exhibit.  But that memory of unending war has never left me."
Eric Ian Steele on "Blood of an Englishman":  "My story literally came right out of the blue. I was determined to write a short short story. That's all I remember before sitting down. Then the first line popped into my head: 'The streets into London had been free of the usual herds of unicorns that morning', and the rest of the story just wrote itself. That hasn't happened to me on too many occasions, but when it does the result always seems to be something that winds up in print. Maybe good ideas come from the same dimension as the creatures in this story!"
Doug Goodman on "Ranas":  "'Ranas' is my love story to teachers.  I come from a family full of educators, and then I married one. So when I wrote 'Ranas', I kept thinking of little things I had heard along the way. Things like the teachers' worst nightmare or the defiant 'this is MY class' attitude of educators that in some ways seem more appropriate with King Leonides and his 300. Educators lead some of the most interesting, complicated lives. I think I got a bit of that in this horror comedy. Of further note:  This one is for Mr. Kopf, my journalism teacher in high school. He was the first person outside my family who said, 'you know, you might have something here.'"
Juliet Kemp on "Gonna Crack It All Open":  "Clubs are strange places.  Full of sweaty strangers, who are often not entirely sober.  But the right DJ at the right place and the whole thing changes shape, creating a glorious shared bubble of suspended time, full of music and movement.  Eventually, it ends, and you stumble out into the morning sunshine to discover that the world is (somewhat surprisingly) still there.  But a bit -- different, somehow, around the edges.  You're not quite in the same universe as the people who pass you on their way to work as you head home.  Your universe is just a little bit 'shinier'.  The shine always wears off. But wouldn't it be lovely if it didn't?"
James Hubbard on "¡Ole!": "'¡Ole!' began when my mother-in-law told me of an incident that happened some years ago in Bogota, Colombia. The first versions of the story drew on different aspects of an unusual and unexpected death, however the final content and structure took shape as I experienced Colombian culture and beliefs while I worked and traveled in the country during the six years I lived there. I found the contradiction fascinating between tradition and beliefs, between Catholicism, superstition and magic that are such natural parts of Colombian culture and can be found in all walks of life, from people living on the streets through to those living in exclusive, gated estates, from the folk living in the Andes to the indigenous peoples living in the desert at the northern tip of South America. The final story is constructed using the three stages of a bullfight as the structure for developments between the main character and his fate, and the main character is a bullfighter to represent the strong sense of tradition that is an integral part of Colombian society."

Eric Del Carlo on "Slay the Fey":  "My tale depicts an economically depressed near future where fairies are illegally crossing over from their misty realms to take up residence in our world. A tweenage boy protagonist ends up harboring one of these fugitives. I simply blueprinted the hysteria surrounding the incursion of undocumented humans into this country. There is some very queasy overlap between the gun-happy Fairy Watch in my story and the real life murders of unarmed youths by self-appointed community guardians."
Nevada Lewis on "The Rule":  "The first bits of inspiration for this story came from a textbook required for a sociology class I took my first year of college. I was skimming through it and came across a sentence that read something like, ‘to get an idea of how many people have lived on Earth, you would add fourteen for every person alive today.’ For the rest of the day, I couldn’t get the image of a string of ghosts trailing behind everyone I saw out of my head. I just really liked the idea of everyone carrying around little pieces of the past in the form of people with them, so I filed it away with all of my other hastily-scribbled and half-formed ideas. I knew there was a story lurking in there somewhere.  A year later, I wrote it."

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