Thursday, November 17, 2016


I love it when a personal invitation to submit to a publisher or editor's newest project comes my way. I almost always say yes, even though an invite isn't a guarantee of an acceptance, and do my best to honor the invitation by bringing my A Game to the table. Early in 2016, I received such an invitation from the brilliant H. David Blalock, whom I had the pleasure of publishing when I edited The Call of Lovecraft for EJP in 2011. Last year, Mr. Blalock asked me to submit to The Idolaters of Cthulhu, an anthology he was editing for the fine folks at Alban Lake Publishing. I wrote a story that was almost instantly contracted for, and got to be part of a beautiful release. This year's anthology would focus on the strange goings-on at Lovecraft's school of the mysterious and bizarre, fabled Miskatonic University. I was immediately smitten...if not quite so sure about what to submit. I have hundreds of first-draft manuscripts held in inventory inside my filing cabinets waiting to be trotted out and edited on the computer for future calls-for-submission, but nothing already written or jotted down on a note card in my catalog of unwritten ideas even remotely met the guidelines.

2016 has been one of my most productive years of writing ever, and one I'll remember for a number of adventures -- writing awards, fantastic retreats, my wedding, and book launches among the highlights. But before any of those adventures were enjoyed, the call for Miskatonic Dreams stands out for setting what became a wonderful tone for this year. I had nothing to submit. And then, one dark winter early morning, I woke up with an idea about two students failing class who are given a chance at extra-credit -- if they agree to catalog part of the university's collection of rare oddities housed in the vaults beneath Miskatonic U. Later that same morning, I put pen to blank page, and the following day had a completed rough draft. "Residue" dashed itself off at a fairly quick clip, and was accepted into another stunning volume (in fact, Mr. Blalock received enough quality submissions to justify the publishing of a companion anthology, Miskatonic Nightmares).

It was my pleasure to speak with my fellow authors regarding the back-stories behind their dark Miskatonic dreams.

Aaron Vlek on "The Accursed Lineage": "I have always had a special place in my heart for the batrachians in the Lovecraft mythos. When the call came out for his anthology I loved the idea of mixing my favorite things, libraries, batrachians, and Christmas into a disturbing nog that pushed the questions further. How might these creatures view their human relatives? Why wouldn’t the library at Miskatonic University hold just as much awe, fascination, and possibility, for the batrachians than it does the sometimes too curious human species? I loved getting into the head of this priggish fellow hunkered down at his studies over Christmas break when he has the run of the place to himself. But as the musty tomes and glittering horrors of the library wreck havoc on the human psyche, what lies within those hallowed walls, and below, to test the mettle and fortitude of a proud batrachian researcher shunning both humans, and his own fellows, when his research takes an unexpected turn? What would bring monstrous horror and seductive wonder to the batrachian denizen of the deep black sea? In ‘The Accursed Lineage’, that was a lot of fun to explore!"

Dave Shroeder on "Dear Mother and Father": "Dave Schroeder was inspired to write his story for Miskatonic Dreams when a friend he’d met at LibertyCon invited him to submit a piece for consideration. Dave is known for humor more than horror, so it was a stretch for him write something in Lovecraft’s universe. His only exposure to Lovecraft was through voice acting with the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, which frequently performs works by the master of the macabre. To find a funny angle on a dark topic, Dave thought the idea of a college student’s letters home to his parents would be an entertaining way to explore both the comic and serious aspects of student life at Miskatonic. For humor without the horror, Dave recommends checking out his Xenotech Support science fiction series from Spiral Arm Press about an entrepreneur doing tech support for alien technology after Earth has joined the Galactic Free Trade Association. To find out how the fun begins, look for Xenotech Rising on Amazon and see why reviewers are comparing Dave to Jim Butcher, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams."

Chad Eagleton on "Your Special Advocate": "There was never any question that I would submit to Miskatonic Dreams. To pay my bills, I work in student affairs at a real-life university. Our purview covers anything that has to do with student health, conduct, and safety -- all issues that would be doubly important to an actual Miskatonic University. While my relationship to Lovecraft’s work has changed drastically over the years and my worldview is certainly nothing like his, what has never waned is my desire to play in his cosmos. To me, the richness, the depth, and the sheer breadth of Lovecraft’s imaginative creations, I think, are far more interesting and engaging than either his style or his nihilism. So I jumped at the chance to tie my real life knowledge in with ‘The Dunwich Horror’ -- the only Lovecraft story where the good guys win -- and create ‘Your Special Advocate,’ a wholly modern and, in some ways, more upbeat mythos tale than you’ll normally find anywhere else."

Jill Hand on "How I Died": "I need you to get me a book.”  The white-haired woman slid into the coffee shop’s black vinyl booth, across from Olivia.  Not ‘I want you to get me a book,’ Olivia noted, but ‘I need you to.’
            Olivia, no stranger when it came to nuance, raised her eyebrows.  This could be interesting.
            “A special order?”
            The woman nodded her head and took a sip of coffee.  Her lips were blood-red but they left no smudge on the cup’s rim.  Not lipstick then, or maybe it was a kind of lipstick that didn’t come off.  Despite her white hair, the woman didn’t look much older than Olivia, who was nineteen and a freshman at Miskatonic University.
            The woman slid a thick envelope across the table.  Olivia looked inside.  Hundred-dollar bills, twenty of them.   This was interesting.
            She asked, “What book do you need?”
            The woman’s red lips curved in a smile.  “The Book of Eibon.  I imagine a smart girl like you can find a way to get it out of the special collections room.  Do it and you’ll be richly rewarded.”
            Olivia put the money in her purse and smiled back at her.

S. L. Edwards on "The Darkness Makes Us Whole": "I wrote ‘The Darkness Makes Us Whole’ shortly after beginning graduate school. Being in grad school allowed me to think of Miskatonic less as a creation of Lovecraft’s and more as an actual university. What would such an esteemed institution, supposedly inspired by Brown and other Ivy League colleges, do after several scandals of faculty in the social and natural sciences losing their minds? What would happen when an expedition returned to Antarctica, finding no temples and plateaus, but only ice? That’s how ‘The Darkness Makes Us Whole’ began, Miskatonic has been disgraced by these scandals, its academic reputation never having fully recovered. Enter a zealous graduate student. Enter Secrets. Enter Madness. But the story took on a life of its own. It became one of the very real curses that weave their way across bloodlines and echo into the blackness of the lonely mind. I began to wonder why only the artists, only the fringe-dwellers of society would be attracted to Lovecraft’s monsters. Was it loss? Was it giving into the idea of insignificance, and somehow making this world more manageable? Enter Loss. Enter Depression.’ The Darkness Makes Us Whole.’ We can only hope."

Eric Tarango on "One Last Death": "I was Facebook surfing and came across the announcement from Alban Lake and read the guidelines and submission subject. I usually zone out when I am thinking and letting images come to mind. I kept imagining what the hallways of an empty university would look like, and who would be wandering the hallways. I saw my character come into mind standing by the corner of a wall and peering around to see if it was safe to travel the hallway. I knew she was dead when I saw her, and that she had died at the university. What I did not know was why she was afraid if she was dead. I put a few sentences down to get the feel of the story and it took on a life of its own from there. I love when that happens with a story. I was writing for about an hour on my couch, I lived alone, recently divorced; a stack of books on my nightstand, been there for days untouched, and suddenly the top one just fell over onto the floor. Scared the crap out of me. I jumped and almost dropped my laptop. That was not cool, but I was wide awake and alert and kept going in and out of the story to check my surroundings. Not the only time it happened to me, too."

DJ Tyrer on "Authorised Librarians Only":  "My story was inspired by thoughts about what Miskatonic University's library would be like in the present age, as obviously, they know exactly what sort of crazy stuff they're sitting on. I suspect Theo may have been born from thoughts for a story for a different anthology, but if that was her genesis, she was very much her own, three-dimensional character by the time she emerged from my subconscious to play her part here. Beyond those details, I can't recall much about the way I arrived at the story - it was one of those that came together without too much conscious thought, as if I was reporting on something that happened rather than inventing it: a wonderful way to write a story, but not one that lends itself to writing a terribly interesting back-story about its creation!"

Lyssa Wilhelm on "Miskatonic University Email Updates": "‘Miskatonic University Email Updates’ was heavily inspired by Nightvale (a show inspired by H.P. Lovecraft). I enjoyed the first-person aspect of the podcast and thought it would be interesting to have something similar to that. I didn't want to do anything too similar to Nightvale, so instead of coming up with weird things on my own, I delved deep into the pit of Lovecraft lore and short stories. Almost every email has a reference to one of H.P's works, if not multiple. My father was a big help with this story, as he is an encyclopedia of Lovecraft stories and helped me with how certain references should be done if I didn't have any ideas. He was a big help. An example of harder to see references would be ‘The Outsider’. Since it was so short, there wasn't an easy way to reference it in the emails. But, I loved the story and wanted to include it. So, I made an anagram of the name Outsider = Stu Dorie, as well as making him the guidance councilor. There are many other references in the story and I hope that people can find them and enjoy how they were done."

Guy Riessen on "The Bridges of Arkham County": "When I read the call for stories for Miskatonic Dreams, ‘what happens in the halls of MU after all the human students are gone,’ I immediately thought ‘professorial love story.’ Of course the irony of a mythos love story was too good to pass up, and it had to be a human professor and a mythos creature. I knew I wanted to write a tale of love-that-couldn't-be -- something like Bridges of Madison County, and the title was born. I don't write an outline for my short stories, so watching them unfold is quite a lot of fun. It's a bit like watching TV only on super slo-mo because I can only type so fast, you know. I wasn't sure how the story would end until I was writing it. Would the professor get eaten at the end? Go insane when he realized the cosmic horror of his ‘girlfriend’? Would the lovers discover they were both different mythos creatures masquerading as human? Just like watching a TV mystery I tried to guess the twist, but it ended up something very different than even I expected!"

James Simpson on "If These Shadows Could Talk": "I think the idea for this story was really meant as a celebration not just of Lovecraft's work, which I make references to, but also several of his own inspirations. There are pieces of Hodgson, Chambers and Machen in there along with a touch of Poe, Shelley and Stoker. It would be fun to expand upon this somewhat. I suppose there's a melancholic edge to it as well. There's this loneliness to evil and these creatures display that even among their kind. There's a tinge of sadness that pervades the whole thing as if these creatures are just stuck in perpetual motion, quietly hoping for release and, perhaps, envying the human race that they supposedly despise so much. There's symbolism to the light and how these beings belong to the darkness. It reminds us that we have never quite mastered the night despite our progression with technology and science. The darkness has always been home to the unknown and we all remember what Lovecraft considered the oldest and strongest fear..."