In April, my newest short story - "On A Midnight Black Chessie" - will appear in Crystal Lake Publishing's anthology, For the Night is Dark, edited by Ross Warren. Here's the cover, synopsis and TOC:
Twenty tales to ward off sleep. Twenty tales to keep you company by candlelight while the world plummets into darkness. Dive into this collection of dark fiction by twenty of the world’s most gifted and disturbed minds, and we’ll see who makes it through the night - for the night is dark. Release is scheduled for April 2013.
Gary McMahon, Jasper Bark, William Meikle, Armand Rosamilia, Jeremy C. Shipp, G.n. Braun, Stephen Bacon, Tracie Mcbride, Mark West, Robert Walker, Tonia Brown, John Claude Smith, Joe Mynhardt, Blaze McRob, Ben Jones, Kevin Lucia, Daniel I Russell, Ray Cluley, Scott Nicholson and Carole Johnstone.
Now, I'm very pleased about my story appearing in this collection for a number of reasons. First of all, it's a step up for me, in terms of the roster. Climbing the ladder, slowly, but surely.
Most importantly, though, is that like another short story of mine - "Almost Home" - which will be in ANOTHER awesome lineup in Nightscape Press/Cutting Block Press' Horror Library, Volume 5, and my serial novella "And I Watered It, With Tears," Part One of which is in the first (and free) issue of Lamplight Magazine, this story marks for me a shift in voice towards something that's much closer to ME, much closer to the kind of fiction I want to write.
Recently, author Gary McMahon (ironically in this TOC with me) posted a Facebook status about "developing your own voice." Feels like that's what I've been doing, in particular, for the past two years or so. Ironically enough, those two years saw quite a drought in acceptances.
To make it short and sweet - because I've posted about this before - in the very beginning of this "career" I tried to write very obvious "horror" stories. And hey, some of them sold. All well and good.
And to be honest, writing something like Hiram Grange & The Chosen One - full of monsters and a monster killer with fast-paced, pulpy-action, with lots of explosions and guts flying - was a lot of fun. I hope to return to the Hiram Grange universe eventually. AND, I feel like I did make my version of Hiram truly mine.
However, things changed dramatically for me as a writer when, in expanding my reading diet, I discovered the works of Charles L. Grant, T. M. Wright, Alan Peter Ryan, Al Sarrantonio, Ramsey Campbell, Ron Malfi, Rio Youers, Norman Prentiss, Mary Sangiovanni and others. Their work was subtle, well-crafted, quiet, eerie, atmospheric, emotionally-charged and darn-near poetic.
Their work really GRABBED me. Not blood'n guts and splattering horror filled with raping monsters and evil, satanic incantations (thanks, Hollywood, for all of those), but tense, emotionally-charged stories built on substance, subtlety and well-crafted prose. THIS was something I wanted to write. I've tried to avoid COPYING their styles (because I've already been down that road with Bradbury and Lovecraft), but I've sought their work out these past two years, eagerly.
And then, this past summer, after reading Dean Koontz's biography, I decided to take a chance and ADMIT the truth: I'm an Idealist. There. I said it. I know I'm writing in the horror/supernatural genre, one that seems awfully pessimistic and nihilistic at times, but in the end, I'm an Idealist. I believe in certain things: love, hope, faith, redemption, forgiveness, recompense, justice, the triumph of good over evil - and I'm going to write about those things, one way or another.
Now, this doesn't mean my stories will always end HAPPY. Especially short stories, because their function is much different than novels, and they don't always offer the same kind of resolution. "On A Midnight Black Chessie" is NOT a happy story, at all, and doesn't offer the same kind of resolution that "Almost Home" does or "And I Watered It" eventually will - but it IS subtler than what I've written in the past, hopefully atmospheric, eerie, with a good deal of emotion.
And that's the kind of stuff I want to write. Now, there's still plenty of room for action-packed, monster-killing fun. For example, Billy the Kid: Down in the Dark (which I WILL be finishing, soon) is basically going to be Hiram Grange on steroids. LOTS of monsters getting blown away, with blood and guts flying. But I think that, like my Hiram Grange novella, my Billy novel will offer some compelling character development along the way, simply because Billy the Kid himself is so intriguing, simply as a human.
And that's what it comes down to, for me. Horror is not (for me, anyway) about zombies and vampires and blood and gore and monsters that eat your intestines, or things like that. It's another genre with staples, yes, but the stuff that rises above the rest - just like in ANY genre - is the stuff that examines and comments on the human condition. It asks questions, it wonders "why?" and shows humans at their worst and best. In other words it says something about this terrible/awful/hard/wonderful/unique/damning/uplifting experience of being human.
And that's what I want to write about, in the end. Always.