It was a vivid dream, complete with color and emotion, especially for my grandmother who once wrote for Highlights for Children and who has taught me some of the best lessons of my life as both a human being (my grandmother doesn't medicate, treats people with respect, wakes every morning with a smile) and a writer (she kept her ideas in a note card catalog that now sits in a place of honor in my Writing Room, didn't trust the human brain to remember everything, especially when the writer had multiple stories in progress). I wrote the story based upon the dream -- "Comes the Rain" -- and filed its longhand draft away, until I read the call for Sekhmet Press's latest call for manuscripts, Wrapped in Black: Thirteen Tales of Witches and the Occult. I pulled the draft out, edited it, and fired "Comes the Rain" off quickly (the deadline was fast approaching), and then on a memorable Tuesday night following my weekly writers' group meeting, I came home to a wonderful acceptance by editor Jennifer L. Greene. For a multitude of reasons, there's a special place in my heart for the story -- and also the anthology in which it is set to appear.
Many of my talented fellow authors shared the back-stories behind their Wrapped in Black stories.
Shenoa Carroll-Bradd on "She Makes My Skin Crawl": "My story started as an idle thought about the many forms domestic abuse can take, and how most people think they know what signs and behaviors to watch out for. That sparked some brainstorming on how a magic-user might take advantage of the general populaces' disbelief in the supernatural. Threatening to kill someone if they leave would certainly earn you a restraining order and police attention, but what if you could physically punish your partner in ways that left no mark, and would never be believed if reported? Luckily, I already had 'She Makes My Skin Crawl' on file in my folder of random titles, and the accidental pun fit too well to be ignored. As much as I enjoyed writing this story, I know many people who have fallen into toxic relationships, and happily escaped one myself. There were a couple points where I had to step away from the keyboard, but I'm ultimately glad I powered through, and I hope readers enjoy my tale."
Eric Nash on "Pigeon": "Social media: isn’t it great? Especially how it force-feeds our desire for attention. I’ve wanted to explore this idea for a year but hadn’t had the opportunity. Then Sekhmet Press sent out a call for witchcraft stories. Of course the words didn’t come immediately and for many an evening I sat in front of an idle cursor that flashed the hours away. It wasn’t until a pigeon landed on the digital page and flapped its wings in a post-flight fidget that the creative cauldron started to brew. I should mention that it was simply a memory of a pigeon that had been inside my head since my school days and not a real one that would peck and splat all over my laptop. Nevertheless, the sweep of air its feathers produced disturbed Maddie, a frustrated and embittered young woman and the un-harnessed impetus of my story."
Allison M. Dickson on "Number One Angel": "Lasso and Cappuccino. Those were the two words picked for a casual writing challenge between two friends. We were to write a short story that somehow incorporated those words, and then share the results. Each of us wrote vastly different stories, ranging from pulpy mystery to dark suspense. After going for broke, this is more or less what I came up with. I wrote it in about a half hour, fueled by little more than my desire to use 'lasso' as a verb, and after some fleshing out I had something slightly resembling what you see here. I eventually expanded it more over time, and have plans to include the events of this story, as well as my short stories 'Devil Riders' and 'The Last Wedding in the Midnight Chapel' in an overarching opus of sorts that has the tentative title Saints & Sinners. I look forward to meeting up with Phelan again, and I hope you do as well."
Aaron Gudmunson on "Pig Roast": "While shopping at an old-school food market in another town, I rounded the corner and discovered a wall of mustard. Literally half an aisle had been devoted to the spicy golden condiment. Until that day, I had no idea so many varieties existed and realized at once I had the ingredients for a story. During my perusal of the vast selection, the tale took shape: I saw a boorish man who loved mustard-slathered meat more than anything—including his family—and asked myself what would happen if he was invited to dinner by a gourmet chef whose specialty happened to be homemade mustard…and witchcraft? When I finished, I had a story with a bit of acerbic bite. Not unlike, say, a nice Dijon."
Gordon White on "Hair Shirt Drag": "Stories come to me like knots. At a glance, I can see the general shape and guess at the size, texture, consistency—even a potential beginning and/or an end. But to untangle that into an actual narrative requires pulling at one loop or whorl to see what comes next and what comes off. Here, I started with the idea that hair, especially pelts and scalps, is a common (magical) fetish. In knot-form, I thought this story involved a sect of rural witches using a totemic Bigfoot costume for their magical rituals, cloaked under an assimilationist guise of Christianity (Biblical references to sasquatch are…debatable). Worrying those filaments, I pulled out the first sentence and the general setting, but Bigfoot and overt religion were dead ends. So I cut them, and instead started unraveling the main character. After pages and pages of non-canonical first-person musings and ranting, I finally heard the narrator’s cadence and digressive storytelling. However, I couldn’t completely untangle that wounded outsider’s obsession with words vs. meaning. Until, that is, I found a place where hair and fetishes and costumes and wounded outsiders thrive. So, in RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season Six…"
Rose Blackthorn on "Beautiful, Broken Things": "The initial idea for this story was not a particular character, or even a simple plot. It was a place. I saw a street at night, lit by arc sodium lamps and neon. The pavement was dirty, the sidewalks crowded with people. But this wasn’t a fun, bright scene. There was darkness everywhere, people trying to hide their pain, people lost with no idea of how to find their way. Across the street, an expanse of curtained window with oddities displayed. No garish advertising here, no way really to even tell what the shop inside sold. Just a hand-painted sign above the mirrored-glass door—a large black crow holding a human eyeball in one clawed foot. From that strange street-view, and an atmosphere of frenetically hidden despair, came ‘Beautiful, Broken Things’. Even in this spare and unforgiving future world there is magic to be found, although it might be dark."
James Glass on "The Rising Son": "When kicking around the idea for ‘Rising Son’, one thing was certain: motivation. I already knew how the story ended up, but I never quite knew why it ended up there in the first place. Much like Cal, I have known heartache and jealousy—I think everyone knows those emotions and everyone has acted in a desperate way at least once as a result of those feelings. In ‘Rising Son’, I took it a step further and then leaped into one hell of a chasm. By taking that leap, I stared into Cal’s eyes and understood the last facets of his personality, which had not been present in later stories wherein he is featured. Here he was, this desperate and jealous man who sought absolute power not to subjugate the masses, but to win the heart of a hooker, and possibly impress his father in the process. He was suddenly so human and flawed that I felt for him for the first time, realizing his efforts were focused and with the intent to impress me."
Michael G. Williams on "Stories I Tell to Girls": "I wrote this story to make a trilogy out of my entry in this anthology and my pieces in Wrapped in Red and Wrapped in White. I also really wanted to visit again with the character of Auntie Ann, who first appeared in a couple of scenes of my novel Tooth & Nail. She is based on a real aunt with whom I spent time as a child. Aunt Mary told amazing stories of growing up in the remotest parts of the Appalachian Mountains and of the pervasive belief in and practice of magic she saw in her childhood. She told me about real witches and about the time the Devil got under the church her father built, describing a setting in which magic was right there for the taking, and I sopped all that stuff up over a small number of long visits. I was raised in the Appalachians, too, just a little ways down the mountain and with a bunch more now around. Some of what Aunt Mary told me about magic was news, but I’ll say this: not all of it."
Mike Lester on "Not This Time": "I have no memory of how this story came to be. I was sitting in a coffee shop, alone at a table. All around me people were buzzing on their phones and laptops. I had a yellow legal pad and a pen. Soon my hand was moving across the paper and approximately one hour later I had thirteen furiously scribbled pages. This is all I know, all I can remember. I don’t try to dig any deeper. The muses would not be happy."
Patrick C. Greene on "Unto the Earth": "In the U.S, most of the magical traditions have borne the burden of misinformation, and outright slander, since the settlers. But while Native American and European disciplines are beginning to gain some grudging tolerance, Voodoo remains mysterious and largely taboo. I wanted to explore this fascinating system of belief from the viewpoint of the average American who is still immersed in the concept that it's a quaint, even comical superstition that no self-respecting educated person could take seriously. It's this arrogant assumption that so often causes our suffering, isn't it?"