A Reader’s Guide to “The Associated Villainies”
I did one of these for my last collection of horror stories (Hopeful Monsters, as you’ll recall), so I thought for consistency’s sake that I’d tackle one for my newest collection as well (it’s available here). It’s basically just a rundown of where the ideas for the stories came from. Read, if you’re interested. Thanks. 🙂
“Time, of the Essence”
This was written (but not used) for an anthology of stories set in a specific Southern town on Halloween in a year of the author’s choosing (pre-1950, if I recall correctly). I wanted to play with the idea of costumes or masks as veneers hiding what was really going on underneath, but also the idea that the real veneer was perhaps the one you didn’t know you were wearing. I also wanted to tie that in with the conflict between progress (both social and technological) and conservatism, by throwing in references to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the beginning of the end of slavery, and the theme of machines replacing human labor. (By the way, I made a two-part YouTube video of me reading this story aloud, if you’re into that sort of thing; just do a search on the story’s title.)
“On the Halfshell”
This was also written for an anthology, but not used; the theme was basically giant animals or giant monsters. I wanted to think of an animal that wasn’t perhaps the most obvious choice for a rampaging beast, i.e. one that’s pretty much completely sedentary. I thought it turned out pretty funny, without completely losing the horror element. Of course, your mileage may vary.
“Three Stories Down”
Basically this was an attempt to write something in a rather David Lynchian vein, where I took a character’s mental state and made it manifest in reality, though I chose to keep the tale rather dreamlike and ambiguous, so that the reader was never really sure if what was happening was real or entirely in the protagonist’s head. I enjoy reading those types of ambiguous stories, so I thought I’d try my hand at writing one.
I have a very vivid memory of going on a camping trip as a kid and seeing a freakishly large yellow and brown moth just hanging out in one of the campground’s bathrooms. Until then I had no idea that moths that large existed, so the experience stuck with me, and served as the germ for this story.
An attempt to take the “human transforming into animal” trope and do something a little different with it. Plus, Nazis.
Because the whole concept of exorcism is sort of hilarious to me, and with a nod to the Leslie Nielsen film Repossessed, this was just a jokey little confection I penned on the idea of a for-profit exorcism outfit with no religious trappings whatsoever.
I’m enchanted with the idea that, before the concept of sexual reproduction was completely understood, there were actually serious theorists who believed that each sperm cell contained a fully-formed (if impossibly tiny) human being, which would then simply grow bigger in its mother’s womb. If this were true, I reasoned, then every male masturbatory session would result in enough tiny people to populate several armies, and the story just wrote itself from there.
I wrote this quite a few years ago, around the time of all that brouhaha in Kansas about the teaching of evolution in public schools (a battle that depressingly went on to encompass many other states as well). Anyone who knows me well knows that creationists are really my main bete noir, so this was a kind of dystopian vision of what I thought a future run by fundamentalist creationists would look like.
“Tempest in a Teapot”
This one is actually a sort-of sequel to a story I wrote called “Spreading the Love,” which is available in the ChimeraWorld #3 anthology from Chimericana Books. It posits a future where religion has been wiped out by a drug, but in this installment things take a strange turn involving particle accelerators and the whole Russell’s teapot idea (look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
“Three Sides to Every Story”
I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, though I do like to use some sci-fi elements in my stories and cross-fertilize them into relatively mundane situations where they don’t really belong, ha ha. So in this story I used the concept of overlapping parallel universes and applied it to a rather straightforward domestic violence/murder type scenario.
“’Til Life Do Us Part”
Growing up I often developed hopelessly romantic obsessions with various rock stars and so forth, so I wanted to write a story in which everything my teenaged self wanted to believe about these unobtainable people actually came true. But then, because it’s a horror story, I had to go and fuck everything up with a ridiculously tragic ending. Or not, depending on your perspective, I suppose.
“At the Gates of the Serpent’s Garden”
This was straight up based on a dream I had years ago; the description of the abandoned building and the ghostly women is pretty much exactly how I remember it from the dream, and the character of Ruth is based largely on how I perceived myself growing up.
The idea for this came from a book I read about unsolvable or unprovable mathematical hypotheses; I’ve always had a fascination with codes or mathematical proofs that resist solutions for many years (or forever). Of course I had to gore it up, because it’s a horror story, but I did like the idea of a mathematician becoming so obsessed with his work (in this case, trying to prove the Riemann hypothesis) that he goes completely batshit.
“Neither Rain, Nor Sleet…”
I live in Florida, and we get hurricanes every now and again. One summer we had four of them within a month and a half, and the woods behind my house were pretty much torn to shit. One day while I was contemplating the carnage, I thought how eerie it would be if all the downed trees revealed some structure out there in the woods that I hadn’t known was there.
“Fates and Furies”
I remember wanting to write a sort of subtle psychological study of three very different women that wouldn’t even seem like a horror story at first, but would slowly ramp up the tension until this big shocking revelation at the end. I also sort of saw it as writing separate characters that would roughly correspond to three different aspects of my own personality.
The germ of this story was another strong memory from my childhood. When I was a kid, my uncle made this kick-ass dragon mask for Halloween; it was basically a masterful papier-mache sculpture covered in glitter (hence the mention in the story about the glitter being in the house for years afterwards, which is completely true). For some reason that mask so terrified me as a child that I refused to go upstairs at my grandparents’ house while it was there, because I knew it was in my uncle’s room on its tall stand, lurking and contemplating my demise.
I wrote this a very long time ago, so I’m not sure where exactly the idea for it came from. The character of Jilly is again based on my own self-perception as a kid, of being one of those quiet, shy, not-terribly-popular children that never got invited to parties. There’s also a strong “Carrie” influence, though it’s more obvious to me now than when I initially wrote it.
Yet another story based around my longtime love affair with Egyptian mythology, this time tied in with an almost absurdist zombie motif.
“The Vulture’s Egg”
I’m a bit of a pervert, I admit that, which is why quite a few of my stories have elements of erotica.This one I wanted to be just sort of borderline pornographic, in my own lyrically schizoid way, with an added dollop of that whole sex/death symbolism thrown in for added spice.
“The Process of Elimination”
I apologize in advance for this story, which was basically my attempt to write the grossest thing I could think of, something that would make me gag even as I was writing it. I got the idea to go scatological from this other story I read (can’t remember the title or the author, sorry) where this fucked-up dude keeps his wife chained in the basement and makes her lick shit off his ass and various other horrible things (and yes, I gagged when I read that too, although it was a damn good story nonetheless).
Other than the supernatural ending, this story is a pretty much straightforward retelling of an incident that happened to my ex-husband and I a few years ago when we were visiting his family in Wales. And yes, the Cefn Golau cholera cemetery is absolutely real, and looks very much as I described it in the story.
I really like haunted house stories that are sort of low-key and unsettling, so this was my homage to the genre; a subtle ghost story without an obvious ghost.
Another thing I like to do in my own stories is to take an established trope or genre and try to do something not-entirely-obvious with it. So this is essentially a crime story, but one in which the crime isn’t actually what it appears to be.
A pretty much traditional werewolf story set in the somewhat unconventional milieu of the BDSM fetish scene.
This story took me a long time to write, because the initial idea for it came out of a very personal situation in my own life, though I think the tale became sufficiently bizarre that the circumstances that inspired it would not be obvious to anyone but me. I wanted to play with the idea of guilt as infection, and again explore the fascinating (to me) theme of ambiguous perception, of never knowing if the protagonist is experiencing the events in reality or only in her own imagination. This is probably my favorite story in the collection, by the way, and it is also the most recent.