Thursday, October 15, 2015


(A thing of beauty, in the hand of editor C.M. Muller)
A long time ago, I moved out of my first apartment and into my second, a sad, tiny hovel (some 350 square feet) in the back of a towering former mill baron's home that had been chopped up into fifteen units. The place was filthy and impossible to keep clean, boasted a scoping view of the city of Haverhill, Massachusetts from its back deck, and was, for fourteen months, home to me, my three cats, and my muse. I don't have a ton of great memories of that apartment; a few. But soon after buying our house thirty-one months ago, my imagination returned to that place on Park Street, given a kind of permission slip to go back delivered via a Halloween prompt handed out at our writers' group's weekly meeting. I mined some of the more bizarre memories and instances of my time there: the giant centipede with the black hide and blue circles dotting its multitude of legs that I killed early one morning, convinced I must be dreaming; the creepy basement where washer, dryer were located, and an enormous soaring staircase dismembered from inside the house led to nowhere; and the sad, constant wails of the stray cats that populated that part of the city. A longhand draft of "Strays" soon dashed itself off in the present, in the big New Englander I now call home, but the experience left me shaken, which I suppose is a great sign for any piece of writing, and which seemed to help my small tale concerning the strange goings-on at an apartment house in an unforgiving corner of the city -- on its first foray out the door to editor & publisher C.M. Muller, who was reading for an anthology of literary, weird fiction, the story sold (and brought with it one of the most humbling, uplifting acceptance letters of my writing career). This month, Nightscript 1 made its anticipated debut, and it's as beautiful to behold as beautifully strange on the inside. Many of my fellow Nightscript 1 authors shared the back-stories behind their wonderful stories.

Bethany W. Pope on "The Death of Yatagarasu": "I was walking my husband to work one morning last autumn when I saw a raggedy crow hop behind the fender of a car. I just saw him for a minute, a glimpse of draggled, blackish-gray and pink patches of skin, and then he was gone. We walked on, and I left my husband at the gates of his office. On the way home, alone this time, I saw the crow again. He was trying to cross the street and enter a large green park on the other side. He was too old and sick to fly, and his eyes had gone a vague and milky white, like antique marbles. He was so blind that he kept striking the tires of the cars that were parked by the curb. Crows can live to be about thirty, in captivity; this one looked older than the earth. I approached him, bent down, and lifted his light, hot body into my arms. His skin felt feverish, as though his heart were a kiln and the door was open, and he stank of rot and broken leaves. I carried him across the street like an infant, pressed against my breasts, thinking about all the crows I've met before, in life and myth. I thought of Yatagarasu, the three-legged Crow, who eats the searing fruit of the sun and brings the world to darkness. I thought about the death of flesh, and the death of gods. Everything ever made has an ending. In the park, there was a bare-limbed hawthorn in a patch of faded green. I laid the crow to rest beneath it, and I stayed with him while he shuddered, and died. Then, I went home and wrote my story."

Ralph Robert Moore on "Learn Not to Smile": "There’s a lot I could say about ‘Learning Not to Smile’, but let me limit myself to this:  Father Panik was a real person.  He founded Father Panik Village in Bridgeport, Connecticut in the late Thirties to provide affordable housing.  In the late Sixties, while working at a bank in Bridgeport (the “armpit of New England” according to Paul Newman), I was assigned the task of distributing food stamps at Father Panik, because no one else at the bank wanted to do it.  Once a month, I received a police escort to the distribution center, where I’d be locked inside a cage (for my own protection, because of the high murder rate), the front door of the distribution center would be unlocked by the police, the long lines would stream in, and I’d have to determine whether each request for food stamps was valid or not (there was a lot of fraud in the system.)   I met quite a few fascinating people during that time, bars between us.  And truly loved my job.  Father Panik Village was eventually demolished by the City of Bridgeport in 1993.  Too many murders."

Marc E. Fitch on "The Trees Are Tall Here": "The inspiration really came from two places: first, we had recently built a house and moved in. I would stand outside, particularly at night, and look up at the trees swaying in the wind and that is when the opening line of The Trees are Tall Here, came to me because the trees were really tall. This part of the neighborhood had been untouched over the years of slow development and so the trees surrounding our new home are tall and, under the right circumstances, menacing and deep. Secondly, I was greatly inspired by Algernon Blackwoods long story, The Man Whom the Trees Loved. Im a big fan of Blackwood. He was really reaching in his stories to understand what lies beyond the veil of reality. I was trying to capture some of that magic in The Trees are Tall Here. When CM sent me his acceptance letter I was quite happy to see that he, as well, could see the story for what it was meant to be."

David Surface on "The Sound That the World Makes": "‘The Sound That the World Makes’ was inspired by two memories from growing up in Kentucky. First, there was a Trappist monastery several miles from my hometown. I drove past it many times during night-rides in the country and always wondered what went on behind its walls. Some friends visited it on Christmas Eve and observed the monks’ midnight vigil ceremony, and their description of it stayed with me. The other memory is a film we had to watch during Drivers Education class in high school. It was basically a collection of car crashes with horrific injuries and fatalities, and was meant to be shown to adults with multiple DUI offenses to ‘scare them straight.’ Even if you closed your eyes, you could still hear the screams of the injured and dying. I’ve managed to reduce the power of that memory over the years, but it seemed like the kind of thing that could take over your whole life if you let it. Those two very different memories both found their way into this story, the way different elements come together in dreams.  (The monastery’s still there. The film, I hope, is dust by now.)"

Christopher Burke on "Fisher and Lure": "The story started from an image of a rocky beach with a dirty old boot on it as a visual prompt.  With that, I had a first sentence, to which I gave an alliterative sound that would help evoke a lonely beach/ocean setting and a rhythm that felt akin to walking.  Soon, a strange kid disrupts the reverie.  One theme that fascinates me is the existence of some degree of deception in language itself and in the way we narrate our lives to convince ourselves of our importance.  Similar to the boot in the story, the images and symbols to which we attach importance can never really be said to convey a whole truth, even within fictions dealing in gray areas.  Alienation and discomfort -- critical components of weird fiction -- are most present in real life when we realize that some fundamental assumption about our world has been turned on its head.  That is the sensation I wanted to be at the heart of ‘Fisher and Lure,’ in addition to having fun with an unpredictable character.  I truly did not know where he/they would go from one paragraph to the next until we got to the end."

Daniel Mills on "Below the Falls": "The story first took shape following a visit to the Emily Dickinson House in the spring of 2010. I am a great admirer of Dickinson’s work and was entirely enraptured by the elegance of the house itself and by the beauty of the grounds. All the same I could not but wonder how differently Dickinson’s life might have turned out had she been born in to a different social class, a less enlightened family, or even to a different time, one with little appreciation for poetry or beauty. These thoughts prompted me to write an early draft of the story in which a Dickinson-like narrator is forced into marriage against her will and subsequently confined to an institution. Years passed and I continued to revise the story until the narrator’s voice came to sound less like Dickinson’s and more like my own. This was unintentional but hardly surprising. Five years later, Dickinson’s voice has vanished from the tale completely. In its place we have the voice of a damaged outsider, victimized by circumstance, who strains after beauty in words where other avenues are denied her. The same is true, I suspect, of many horror writers -- including me."

Charles Wilkinson on "In His Grandmother's Coat": "I live on the Welsh Marches, an area of Great Britain that also inspired Arthur Machen, a writer of supernatural and weird fiction. My home is in Wales, but I can walk over the bridge to England  in two minutes. Borders and liminal places are frequent motifs in my fiction.  The mink coat in the title of my story is perhaps a memory of the one my mother owned. She wore it in the 1950s, but by the sixties it was seriously out of fashion for all the right reasons. It remained in her cupboard, soft to the touch, but neglected and somehow sinister. 

John Claude Smith on "The Cooing": "The story came to me while in Rome, Italy, during my summer stay there a year or two ago.  My girlfriend, who lives there, and I were on vacation -- yeah, I know, isn’t being in Rome vacation enough? -- and at some point in our explorations, I heard a cooing sound coming from an abandoned building.  That’s all it sometimes takes.  I started writing the tale and realized I wanted to take a more subtle approach, something I look to explore more often.  I felt, after I got it going, it had a vibe that related to English horror tales, perhaps.  But…the tale takes place in the southwest of the USA.  Yes, that is correct: I was in Italy, writing a somewhat English horror tale set in the USA.  Also of note, there was one paragraph CM Muller suggested we delete as, well, even if I was attempting something more quiet, yet weird -- the final images --  I had…overdone it (as I am wont to do) in the deleted paragraph.  After I read it with CM’s suggestion, I knew the tale was now as it was meant to be."

Jason A. Wyckoff on "On Balance": "‘On Balance’ is my first story written on commission. Yeah, okay—it was commissioned by my mom. As I suspect is the case with other writers, I am not the only storyteller in my family. So when my mother rediscovered the novelty gift which bears her name, she asked various relatives to use it as the inspiration for a piece of short fiction. It made the rounds and eventually came to me, where it sat on a shelf for…I don’t know…four years? In the interregnum I began writing, er, ‘professionally’, and decided I should pass it on to the next victim, reasoning, ‘I love you, mum, but I don’t have time to write anything I can’t at least try to sell.’ Naturally, having made the decision, the inspiration for a story came to me. What if I couldn’t get rid of it? What if it kept coming back? Moreover:  What if it wasn’t a personal totem or a cursed object but instead its recurring appearance resisted interpretation -- even though it must mean something? What if you received an envelope with the return address ‘YOUR FATE’ and you couldn’t open the bloody thing? What might that do to a person?"

Patricia Lillie on "The Cuckoo Girls": "A monster who comes at you, teeth bared in a full-on assault is terrifying, but you know they're coming for you. You have something to fight. What about the monsters you don’t see? The ones who blend in? Monsters who change the course of your life without you even knowing? Those are the monsters that scare me. (Also, overheard -- and misheard -- conversations among strangers in public places are great story starters.)."

Kristi DeMeester on "Everything That's Underneath": "‘Everything That’s Underneath’ started with the idea of the door and the doppelgänger but quickly become something else altogether. While I was writing it, I was having my own health problems. For a few weeks, I’d had tingling and numbness in my left arm and hand that radiated up into my shoulder, neck, face, and tongue. Something that I thought was a strained muscle. It wasn’t until a few months after I sold this story, that my own diagnosis came in. Looking back, this story is strangely prophetic. As if my mind had an understanding that I shared the same disorder as Benjamin before any doctor made the official call. Looking back now, it feels almost as if I wrote the entire story while in the throes of some fever dream, and the story sits heavy in my bones, but every word is mine."

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