|(photo credit: Henry Snider)|
Over the summer, between writing retreats, conferences, and adventures, I submitted two short stories to editor Mark Wholley, who was reading for an anthology open only to writers who had attended the Freshman experience of November 2011's Anthocon
. The anthology, appropriately titled Anthology: Year One
, would be launched at this year's multi-genre celebration.
A Saturday night, months later, I paused the Hollywood blockbuster playing on our flat-screen in the living room (Snow White and the Huntsman
, I believe) to refresh sodas. I moseyed into my Writing Room to find an acceptance on one of the two stories, my short and creepy tale, "The Guests." I was beyond thrilled and struggled to get through the rest of the movie. I wanted to be in this project. And I was.
The idea for "The Guests" came to me on a humid June afternoon, a Wednesday, in one of those thunderclaps of inspiration where a story takes shape, fully formed. I saw, quite clearly, a woman X'ing off days on a calendar in red ink as she and her husband prepared for the arrival of holiday guests. Only it turned out that though the motions seemed normal, an element of wrongness quickly grew apparent, for these guests were not your average in-laws or siblings. I sat down a few hours before due to depart for my writer's group's weekly meeting, put pen to paper, and dashed off the first draft in one sitting. I then read it to my fellow scribes, who dug it. So did the luminous Mister Wholley, as he chose it to appear in a stellar Table of Contents in the conference's official literary companion.
Many of my fellow authors shared the back stories behind their contributions to the amazing read that is Anthology: Year One
on "When Betsy Whispers": "As part
of my day job, I travel to our local prisons from time to time. One snowy day,
I left early in case the roads were bad. I arrived early, with time to kill.
They were in the process of opening a new museum. There was a wall of shanks,
and a letter written by a fourteen-year-old Charles Manson when he'd been at
the boys' school. But what drew my attention was the chair. Ancient,
yet elegant, untouchable due to the glass that separated us, she sat. Some
states refer to their electric chairs as 'Old Sparky'. For some
reason, in Indiana,
she's 'Old Betsy'. She whispered to me, and planted the idea for my
story, 'When Betsy Whispers'."
Stacey Longo on "Cliffhanger": "'Cliffhanger' came about when I was stuck at an employment law
seminar all day, listening to two lawyers drone on about Connecticut's paid sick leave law. I was thinking
about how nice it would be to push one or both of them into the Grand Canyon. So, while my boss thought I was
diligently taking notes, I outlined the story that would become 'Cliffhanger.'
And yes, the married couple in the story is named after those two tedious
Timothy P. Flynn on
"A Day at the Bookstore": "
in 2007, I was in the process of ending a fifteen-year
relationship with my wife (together for ten, married for five) because my
alcoholism and depression were just out of control. I hit the rock bottom that
many talk about but yet never seem to face. My life needed a change or I was
going to die. I finally
took the plunge into a detox center at Hampstead Hospital
All I knew up until that point was being drunk. I had always loved writing and
books, but had no clue how to pursue it. So I became more depressed because I
suppressed my passion for writing. I made one promise to myself once I go out
and was sober: I would follow my passion and have a dream.
I tried a
dating site to look for a possible relationship. My search focused on a woman
who enjoyed Horror, books, and movies. Common interests were the most valuable
commodity now as my soon to be ex-wife never read a damn book in her life. This
is how I met Barbara. We talked online for a few weeks before finally meeting:
our first in person date? At the Salem,
Barnes and Noble, yes a
bookstore! I don’t know about the rest of you, but after being with one woman
for such a long time, the first time you meet a new love is very exciting. We
talked about books, various authors, movies -- mostly Horror, her college choices,
and life stuff. I had such a great time talking about things I cared about;
with a coffee in my hand instead of a beer.
story about the poem is that I have no written copy of it anywhere. A few days
after meeting Barbara, I opened up my email, and proceeded to write this poem
in the space. It was written in a fury, the images just shot from brain to
hand, no editing. I hit send and waited to hear a response. A few hours later,
she responded with nothing but admiration for what I created for her. I wrote
it for her, solely for her and had no intention of anyone ever seeing the poem.
I don’t even have the account anymore that I used to write that poem; hence the
only copy of its existence was lost to cyber land. Barbara was so moved by my writing of this
poem that the next time I saw her; she presented me with a surprise. The gift
was a beautiful framed copy of the poem. She printed it out, blew it up,
designed some fancy fonts and border to it and gave it to me. It had to be the
nicest thing anyone had done for me in a very long time. To this day, besides
this poem being published in Anthology: Year One; the only existence this poem
was even written at all resides on my desk in my office."
T. T. Zuma
on "The Old Man": "'The Old Man' was inspired by Tom Piccirilli. I had attempted a few times before to
write a noir-influenced story and never had much luck at it. Everything I wrote seemed to hinge on
a cliché, or I wasn’t able to pull off that tough guy attitude in my main
character that Tom is so damn good at. Then one day while driving to work, I
came to the bridge located in the center of my hometown and I saw an old man
fishing off it. My imagination kicked in and later that evening I started the
first draft of 'The Old Man.' Reading it the next day I thought it
sucked. The characters were
stereotypes and the plot wasn’t very original.
Pic had told me once that when he
wrote a story all he had in his head was maybe the first line or the first
paragraph and once those were written, he would then let the story take over
and see where it brought him. I
decided to try and do the same thing. After
using the same first paragraph, I rewrote the story letting my characters take
me on their journey instead of the other way around. I hadn’t the slightest idea that my
private eye was really a mob enforcer on the run or that the antagonist wasn’t some
tough-talking gorilla but a young, scared kid. As a result of these changes
came a new ending which not only took me totally by surprise, but I thought
perfect. When I had
finished rewriting the story,
it didn’t suck anymore.
Once finished and then vetted by
my first readers I had another problem, who publishes noir short stories
anymore? I held onto
it for over a year. When Anthology: Year One announced a call for
submissions, I thought it the right anthology and I rushed to send
it to the editor, Mark Wholley. Thankfully he accepted 'The
Old Man' and I am proud
that it found a home in this anthology."
K. Allen Wood on "She Cries": "
The title 'She Cries' has been with me for a long time. Back
in the early ‘90s, as a young teenager, I used it as the title to the following
She came to me in the night.
Her body seemed to move, sinewy,
with the mist,
swirling, gathering at my window.
She coursed through my mind,
bristled close to my skin,
leaving sweet beads, hope-filled.
Then she was gone.
That night, awake, I spoke a
'There is reason we return from
the bitter darkness.'
Ignoring the poetic merit presented above, which should be
easy because I’m fairly confident there is none (I don’t even know what that
poem is about anymore), that was the first time I used the title. Later, it
became a song. More recent, I used it as the name of a music project. You can
hear one of those songs, a cover of an old System of a Down demo
. And most recent, it was the perfect
title for a short story I’d written, so I used it yet again.
Those two words together --'she cries'-- have always
resonated with me, for one reason or another. Specific to the short story, however,
which now appears in Anthology: Year One,
a fine collection of tales from authors who attended the very first Anthology
conference in 2011, the idea came to me after a friend broke down one night
while drinking. 'I just want you to hold me,' she’d said in part that night. 'I
want to feel safe.' The words haunted me for a long time, because she’d peeled
back the layers and had given me a glimpse of the dark things that pulled her
strings. But she didn’t want to cut those strings; she just wanted to use me. 'She
Cries' doesn’t touch upon that moment specifically, but it does explore her
psyche a bit, in that it features a haunted woman who isn’t strong enough to
let go of the darkness that controls her; and because of that, those
unfortunate enough to truly care about her or try to help often find themselves
heartbroken -- or worse. The metaphor probably isn’t as clear for the reader
because I know the history of and the catalyst for the story, but I’m confident
that knowledge isn’t necessary for one’s enjoyment of the tale."
Peter N. Dudar on "The Strange Medicines of Dr. Ling": "
grandfather was the general manager of the Washington County Fairgrounds in
upstate New York for many years, and during those hot summer days when the
carnival rolled into town my brother and I were allowed to spend the week in
his trailer, right inside the fair. A great portion of my childhood was
spent soaking in carnival life -- riding the rides, playing along the midway,
breathing in the myths and mysteries of the fair. There's two faces to a
carnival: the fun, vibrant, excitement of a bigger world suddenly appearing in
your small town; and the cold, terrible reality of people and animals being
exploited to make a quick buck. You never needed to pay a ticket for the
freak show. You only needed to see those old-time carnies, the ones missing
a hand or a leg from some carnival tragedy, to feel that same level of
to write a story that captured these feelings from when I was a kid, the way
Bradbury had with Something Wicked This Way Comes
, or F. Paul Wilson had with
his wonderful anthology Freak Show
. Only, as an adult, I wanted to
capture a portion of something almost everyone could empathize with. In
this case, what would you be willing to trade off to be rid of something you
could no longer tolerate living with...say, a bad headache? With a
little creative magic, I devised an old-fashion spirit wagon, operated by
the strange and sinister Dr. Ling. And once the bad doctor appeared, the
story pretty much told itself. Even now, long after the story was
written, I can almost hear the sound of his flute playing in my head and it
takes me right back to my own childhood."
Jennifer Allis Provost
on "Stir the Bones": "My story was inspired by several real life events. On June 1,
2011, Western Massachusetts was hit by a
tornado; luckily, my home wasn't damaged. But it got me thinking about what it
would be like to be trapped in my basement, just me and my husband and the
supernatural events mentioned are all true, to a point. The woman we'd bought
the house from did have eight different men living with her over the course of
ten years, and she did raise the basement floor by two feet with concrete. The
scissors really did fly across the kitchen to open a bag of pet food, though it
was cat food, not dog. And, the kitchen cabinets really did take a flying leap
off the walls.
course, everything mentioned didn't happen; we weren't trapped in the basement,
for one. In reality, if we were trapped I wouldn't just be with my husband and
dog, but twin toddlers, two cats, and a parrot as well. If everyone
had made an appearance, this short story might well have become a
novella. Also, other than my overactive imagination, there is no evidence
of bodies under the basement floor. Then again, how would I detect them
underneath all that concrete?"
John Grover on "Bog King": "I have to
credit the inspiration to my story to my partner. He is a geographer
and historian and in his day job he edits world history textbooks. He
sent me an article on the bog kings of the Celtic tribes. Back in those days
when the tribe decided the king’s reign was up they would ritually murder him
and put his body in the local bog to insure the return of spring after the
winter and to be the guide of the moon goddess since the king represented the
sun on earth.
The article detailed how archeologists or
scientists had exhumed the bodies of Celtic kings from the bog and had
discovered the bog had preserved the bodies so well they were able to tell what
their last meal was, what oils they’d had in their hair, how old they were, how
they were killed and many other things. After reading this, of course, my
writer’s imagination took off and I instantly began thinking of 'what if' scenarios and the story was born. I imagined a young king figuring out what his
fate was about to be and getting the jump on his own blood-thirsty tribe, but
the tale did not end there. I crafted a tale where the king flees into the very
bog that was to be his final resting place and the tribe that will not rest
until he gives the ultimate sacrifice for them -- his life. They will go to
unthinkable lengths to make sure spring returns the following year."
Roxanne Dent on "The Legacy": "
I was thrilled to learn my short
story about greed and murder with a twist in Victorian times sold to Anthology: Year One
. Knowing my story was accepted
into their first print anthology was exciting.
I got to read a section of it
at the November conference, which was wonderful with fabulous speakers, the
Goth singer Voltaire, and numerous panels and talks.
This year I kept winning books in a raffle and [my sister]
Karen won a fabulous painting.
I love Anthocon and the people
behind the conference and the book, which I’m sure, will be the first of many."
Scott Christian Carr on "The Jesus Bomb": "
I didn’t want to kill Jesus again. I’d already done this
once (God forgive me) in Hiram Grange and
the Twelve Little Hitlers -- murdered the manic,
pizza-munching, razor-clawed conspiracy theorist Ypsilanti Christ (who was
hanging out and blogging with Little Hitler #8, until Mr. Grange put a quick
and bloody end to them both).
I didn’t want to kill
Jesus… again. But even after 12 Lil’ Hitlers had gone to print, I
couldn’t shake the idea of another
skewed Christ -- couldn’t get Him out of my mind: Googly-eyed, staggering and
swaying, all Hippied-out in Birkenstocks and bathrobe, lobotomized and brainwashed,
wearing a T-shirt bearing the immortal scripture, I’m With Stupid (complete with an arrow pointing up to the Heavens). Oh, and a nuclear bomb strapped to His chest.
A character too good to
throw away, and too insanely sacrilegious to use almost anywhere else -- it is
a true testament to the strength of the series, that Hiram Grange’s universe
was the best (if not the only) place
that this tragically flawed miracle-bungler could find a home. And so, diving
back into Mr. Grange’s world, it not only made sense, but seemed somehow apropos, that there was room enough (God
forgive me, again) for more than a few Christ killings.
And just like that, the
short story, The Jesus Bomb was
For any who are interested,
I am currently at work on my third Hiram Grange novel (the second, Hiram Grange and The Twelve Steps will
hopefully be out in 2013): Hiram Grange
and the Twelve Apostles. God forgive me (can I get an Amen?), but as of this writing, I have no plans to murder Christ a
Andrew Wolter on "The Green Hour": "I've always
been intrigued by the stories surrounding the consumption of absinthe. Was
there truly a 'green fairy' and did those who partake of the jade-colored
liquor hallucinate as if on some bad acid trip? Were such claims mere drunken
ramblings or the subject of old wives tales? A year before 'The Green Hour' was
published, I attended the very first AnthoCon convention in which Ted Breaux
(a renowned expert on the subject) offered a workshop on the preparation and
history of absinthe. Immediately after attending Breaux’s informative class, I
was instantly inspired to write an absinthe-related tale and already had the
title in mind. While I wanted to incorporate the history revolving the liquor,
I longed to explore a modernized myth as well. What really occurred in those
moments when this mysterious alcohol impaired all judgment? As my goal in
writing this tale was for readers to truly experience my main character’s
absinthe-induced state, the entire content of 'The Green Hour' was written
during several sessions in which I was heavily under the influence of absinthe."
Kevin Lucia on "Lament at Sundown": "'Lament at
Sundown' began, ironically enough, with a good-natured, running gag in one
of my high school classes. Several of my honors students had this running joke
with one of their mates -- a student of an Arabic/Middle-Eastern background (but
fully, whole-heartedly American) -- that she was Native American. This led to
random references to hunting buffalo, scalping, pow-wows, and fire-water,
whenever the time seemed right: in the middle of conversations, tests, class
discussion...pretty much whenever. It became our class's version of the
time-honored 'That's what she said' joke.
Now, I know what you're thinking -- how could I
allow such cultural insensitivity in the classroom? But, I knew these students
well -- had known this one student's family for over ten years -- and it was
clear that everything was offered in good fun (and I checked with said student,
several times). Sure enough, for Halloween, the student in question came into
class dressed in full-tilt Native American garb -- headdress and tomahawk and
all -- and proceeded to 'scalp' several of her fellow students for
This, ironically enough, on a slow day, led to a
discussion about my writing process. They asked how I came up with new stories,
and I told them I tried to draw as much inspiration from life as possible. I then referenced their running gag and said: 'Here's the thing: you guys have all been really kind and laid-back about
this, it's obviously a joke between old friends. But what if it WASN'T? What if
there was meanness and violence behind it, and what if...what if...the victim,
a female, decided she wasn't going to take it anymore? Was going to take
matters into her own hands?' And thus, this
story -- in its earliest form -- was conceived with the help of these ten students. This story
deals with other things, also. The helplessness I sometimes feel as a teacher,
in trying to touch students' lives...and failing, so often. Also, it's a hard
look at how fear and prejudice and even racism start as very small, innocuous
seeds, sprout, grow into something dark and deadly...often claiming those most
Tracy L. Carbone on "The Imaginary Solution": "I wrote 'The
Imaginary Solution' several years ago to purge some bad feelings about a
painful childhood similar to the one the main character experienced. There were
embellishments of course and exagerrations, but the Bialows were real. Their elderly poodles, the
constant scent of cleaning solution in the house, and 'The Doctor' always in the other room coughing. As a child, this couple disturbed me.
They were the oldest people I had ever seen, so aged that I wondered how
they could be alive. The smell of Pine Sol and Mrs. Bialow's hands have
stuck with me, just waiting for a spot in the story.
Until the call for
submissions for Anthology was announced, I'd never tried to
send this story anywhere, unwilling to expose myself or my life, even if it was
cloaked in fantasy. But this seemed the perfect venue for it so I decided to
send it along. I am glad it found a home."
David Bernard on "Appledore": "As any Yankee
already knows, Appledore is the name of one of the Isles of Shoals off the
coast of New Hampshire and Maine (although Appledore's neighboring
island, Smuttynose, is more fun to say). Of all of the ghost stories along the
New England coast, and there is no shortage of them, the one tale that always
intrigued me was the ghost of Blackbeard’s bride who walks Appledore, guarding
hidden pirate treasure. The deceased Mrs. Blackbeard’s story has not grown over
the decades like other stories where details become attached to the story with
later retellings. I remedied to fix that oversight.
Here’s a confession, I like writing fiction, but
not nearly as much as I enjoy my nonfiction projects. I like researching odd
topics and my fiction writing tends to rely on real names, dates and places to
guide the story. With that in mind, 'Appledore' relies on historical details
from Haverhill, Newburyport and the Isles of Shoals to move
the story along, much in the same way local poet and folklorist John Greenleaf
Whittier used Hampstead folk figures like Goody Cole to tell his tales. This is
not to say I’m in the same league as Whittier,
even if I look just as spiffy in a beard as he does."
Trevor Schubert on his internal artwork: "For the image 'Seaweed Inferno" -- this whole
thing started (like more than a few images do) drawing with my children. In
particular, I remember it was Spaceman/aka astronauts with my six-year-old
daughter. I’ve always been fascinated with the similarities between the ocean
and space, so much is constantly changing, moving and evolving, so much
undiscovered. It might be initially considered a dark or morbid scene,
however my intent was to consider the fact that the unfortunate explorer in
this scene now has an eternity to watch his surroundings play out. The 'evolution' of space to sea in this drawing was an easy one; convincing my daughter this
was acceptable however, that was a different story
Regarding 'Evil Pumpkin' -- as a child of
the 80's, growing up with every possible ghoulish and monstrous movie you
could imagine, not that super-duper digital stuff, the classics born from
latex, paint, and maybe a little silicone, however I’m quite sure it was
mixed up in a bowl, not a valley. This might sound a little hypocritical of me
considering I have in fact been a digital artist for the past decade, however the majority of my images start from a old fashioned paper and
pen and are occasionally pulled from a deep-seeded foundation
of 'jump out and scare you' horror creatures, thanks to a
trusty VCR with a remote that was most likely only an optional feature
on our family’s model. Or lost years ago. I just remember that when one of
those monsters popped up you had two options: either get up and run
out of the room, or shut your eyes and hope for the best, because we all
know that physically walking towards the thing to shut it off was never going
to happen. I became a pretty good sprinter, my imagination's just gotten
better at chasing me."