Monthly Archives: July 2014

Short fiction: June – July

Here is a list of the short fiction I read in June and July.  Ratings are out of 5 stars.  4 stars and above means the story qualifies for my Recommended Reading list.  The latest batch of stories can be found in the following publications:

Rear Window – Cornell Woolrich
Realms:  The First Year of Clarkesworld Magazine
Black Static #40
Dear Life – Alice Munro
Black Static #41
Nightmare Magazine

SHORT FICTION
Dead on Her Feet – Cornell Woolrich (***)
Waltz – Cornell Woolrich (***)
The Ape’s Wife – Caitlin Kiernan (**)
Lost Soul – M.P. Ericson (***1/2)
Ravello Steps – Chris Barnham (***)
The Book That Squealed – Cornell Woolrich (***)
Reclamation Yard – Paul Meloy (***1/2)
Corrie – Alice Munro (****)
The Hutch – Ray Cluley (***1/2)
Ghosts Play in Boys’ Pajamas – Ralph Robert Moore (****)
The Driveway – Leah Thomas (***1/2)
None So Empty – Tim Waggoner (**1/2)
Caul – Vajra Chandrasekera (**1/2)
Equilibrium – Carole Johnstone (****)
The Spider Sweeper – Thersa Matsuura (***1/2)
Sunbleached – Nathan Ballingrud (****)

Back to the tunnels…

20 months ago, I abandoned a story called THE TUNNELS BELOW, THE TOWER ABOVE.  It was a horror tale about the homeless who survive in the flood tunnels under Las Vegas. It refused to work at the time. I wrote about 25,000 words over two-and-a-half drafts before I finally gave up, disgusted with it and myself. Today, while looking for a project to work on, I opened the file and began reading. To my complete surprise I didn’t hate it! In fact, it’s 90% “there”; I just couldn’t see it at the time. All along, I thought the story was about monsters when it was crying out to be about something else:  paranoia and fear and the walls people build around themselves. I’m happy to say there’s still a glimmer of hope for this one.

Three Things I Don’t Write About (and Three Things I Do)

Firstly, let me say thank you to the lovely Priya Sharma for tagging me for this, the latest writer-craze doing the rounds. It was nice to be invited to the party for a change, instead of standing outside and wondering why no one has asked me to dance.  Thank you.

And don’t you know it…I get the chance to show off my moves and I’m out of time with everyone else on the dance floor.  Not only is my post several days later than everyone else’s but I put my left foot in when it was supposed to be right (or my Don’ts before my Do’s).  Oh well, the music’s still playing; if I keep dancing maybe no one will notice…

Three Things I Write About.

The outsider.  I’m drawn to people on the fringes, broken people who constantly struggle to relate to the world and the people around them. Why? Two reasons. One: I can relate. I prefer to observe rather than partake. I’m built that way. Two, I find these kinds of people usually have a unique and, to me, interesting view of the world. Often in real life it is those who talk the most that have the least to say. I want to shine a light on the people society forgets. Some examples from my work: In The Things That Get You Through, teacher James Graves retreats from society while he attempts to fast-track himself through the five stages of grief. With the help of a mannequin. In The Machinehouse Worker’s Song, two men are shut away from the outside world behind the walls of the titular machinehouse. The Sound of Constant Thunder is a post-apocalyptic tale about a former street custodian who has his new-found peace shattered by the intrusion of “thunder” or people.

A new thing I find myself writing about to an extent that it qualifies for this post is family, particularly parenthood. In 2011, when my son entered my life, he turned everything upside down. I quit my job, moved to another country (twice) in my quest to give him something better than the life we had at the time. It’s still a work-in-progress, but where we are now is a definite improvement. In A Trick of the Night, the devil visits a single mother’s dreams to tell her that her son is going to be responsible for the deaths of many innocent people. What follows is an overprotective parent driven to point of insanity in her efforts to keep her boy out of trouble. In The Space That Runs Away With You, I explore the scenario of the missing child and the familial devastation it can cause. In The Broken and the Unmade, I look at three generations of a Jewish family through the prism of survivor guilt. The protagonist in The Sound of Constant Thunder has father issues. And in my latest, So Many Heartbeats, So Many Words (not published at the time of this posting), I have taken many real-life situations and events and worked them into a tale which, at its core, is about communication within a family.

My final pick is the beautiful in the ugly. What I mean by this is that I look for moments of beauty in even my bleakest of tales. This is no more evident than in my latest story, So Many Heartbeats, So Many Words, in which I tried my utmost to convey glimpses of light in the seemingly all-consuming darkness. Indeed, is there a better, more accurate metaphor for life? I don’t think so. The longer I write what I write – dark fiction, bleak fiction, realist fiction, whatever label you want to stick on it – the more I find myself looking for the happy ending, and if not that then at least allow my characters a peek at the light on their way down the well…

Three Things I Don’t Write About.

Comedy is too easy a choice, so I’m going to have to go with weird or surreal fiction. Most of what I write is horror, but usually it is the horror of the real, the possible. I rarely write about monsters, and when I do all sorts of alarm bells go off in my brain. In Men Playing Ghosts, Playing God, death makes an appearance. In A Trick of the Night, the devil, briefly. But in the majority of my stories the horrors are real and/or psychological. It rarely, if ever, has fangs or tentacles. Indeed, a while back I wrote a story about the homeless living in the tunnels under Las Vegas and despite there being a lot of good material in it, when it came to the point where the monsters finally make their entrance, it became laughable. The story awaits revision. There are always exceptions, of course. The story I am writing now, provisionally titled, The Suffering, has a monster in it and I think it is pretty damn scary. Whether others agree, time will tell. Back to the weird and surreal… One exponent of that genre that I greatly admire is Ralph Robert Moore. Two recent stories of his spring to mind, All Your Faces Drown in My Syringe and Kebab Bob, both of which were published in the excellent Black Static magazine. The imagery and ending in the former touches on sheer brilliance, while the characterisation in the latter is so strong it manages to steal centre stage from the bizarre image of a human kebab. Now that’s a rare talent. I have little doubt that as I continue down the path of writing horror, I will venture deeper into such realms, but for now – or until the next idea comes along – I will likely stick to writing about real-life horrors.

My second choice falls into a similar category as weird fiction in that I am not adverse to “going there” I just prefer to write about other things. I’m talking about historical fiction, or fiction set in a time period other than our own. Simply put, I prefer here and now over there and then. Perhaps it is also a fear of the overlooked detail, of not doing enough research to convince the reader that they are in a specific period in history. A fear that my efforts will have all the historical accuracy of a Bill and Ted Adventure, no matter how excellent that might be. Or, again, maybe the ideas haven’t called for it yet. There is one recent exception that comes to mind. Some scenes in The Broken and the Unmade were set in a death camp during the Second World War, a subject that has fascinated me for years. However, I shied away from them too, leaving the flashback scenes until after everything else had been written before going back and filling in the gaps.

Lastly, I’m going to pair these two together because they go together like…well, you know. I’m talking about romantic fiction and the sex scene. It takes a particular set of skills (to paraphrase Liam Neeson in the film Taken) to write romance or to create a sexual encounter of the convincing kind. Many writers lack these skills, and I may or may not be one of them. I wrote a brief sex scene for The Sound of Constant Thunder. A thousand words before I, pardon the pun, hit the spot, I started to sweat and worry. Performance anxiety. As it turned out, the protagonist was a virgin and came quickly, saving me (and the reader) further embarrassment. Joking aside, his…brevity suited the character and the situation and wasn’t merely a product of my own discomfort. Still, sex scenes are rare in my work. If you want some (again, beg your pardon), go pick up a copy of 50 Shades. Romance has little place in fiction of a darker persuasion, but it’s something I’ve included to some extent in stories like The Sound of Constant Thunder and Men Playing Ghosts, Playing God, and my latest, So Many Heartbeats, So Many Words. Of course, when you write dark or horror fiction the good things like romance and sex often have a tendency to turn bad.

That concludes my answers.  If anyone reading this fancies having a go, by all means, consider yourself tagged.

New story

Finished a short story collaboration last night. My first. And what better guide and companion to have than the hugely talented (and patient) Ralph Robert Moore? Thank you for the great experience, Rob. I’ve been a fan for years and this is something I will always treasure. Although the voyage wasn’t swift I had a wonderful time every step of the way. The story is called THE ONLY MAGIC LEFT IN THE WORLD, it’s approx. 10,500 words, and we hope you get the chance to read it soon.

I’ll say more about my thoughts on the collaborative process in a future post.