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Not Your Ordinary Sweetest Day

October 25th, 2012

by Brady Allen

I can’t plot out my short stories ahead of time; I like to discover them as I write. Just start with an image and see where it goes. That, for me, is what makes writing wondrous.

Wonder is generally seen as a good thing, of course, though some of it is threatening and dark, and I reckon there are only some of us who can’t help but search for it, darkness, and wonder at it.

I see darkness in a look one student gives another in class when I’m teaching; in the grocery store when some gal tries to get a green avocado near the bottom and sends the whole pile tumbling to the floor; in the shoes tossed over the phone lines and the birds that sit next to them; in the man selling flowers on the street corner on Sweetest Day; in an apparently empty rowboat, or high school band concert, or a can of Silly String, or even a family having a picnic to celebrate the Goodness of the Good in the Good, Good World. Even in a sweet comment my four-year-old daughter makes, and in a bumper sticker that says, “My daughter the honors student can kick your football player’s ass” (okay, I’ve never seen this one, but I’ve always wanted it).

I’m far from a worrywart about myself or things related to me. In fact, I’m probably just a bit too irreverent and unconcerned. But I worry about those closest to me, like my aging parents, and, of course, first and foremost, my two daughters. So, the answer here about how wonder, and more importantly darkness, are part of my creative process, well. . . .

This is far from being my original thought, and Ray Bradbury probably put it better many times, but, consider this: wonder comes with remembering what it was like to be a kid. Kids have a childhood full of “whys” and “hows”: Why does the moon change shapes? Why do we have eyebrows? Why does pencil lead stick to paper? (The last being a question from my teenage daughter when she was in pre-school—she was the master of the Stump-Daddy Question.)

As we get older, we have to keep the why/how part of us but also let it blossom into the “what if” stage. This is where invention comes in, how we progress and adapt and evolve. It’s also how we start to worry, and how we cause ourselves to have to face the darkness, the Unknown, if you will. What if ________, whom I love dearly, gets sick, gets hurt, disappears, or, God forbid, dies?

For fiction writers, especially speculative fiction writers, our job is in the equally maligned and loved What-if Business. Those folks who don’t write, or at least read, fiction may not understand. Those of us who like to write and/or read dark fantasy fiction, or horror fiction as we should call it unless we’re afraid of the stigma, well, our what-ifs tend to be the kind that make some folks shy away, I reckon. You see, I believe that what-ifs are further probes toward honesty. If hows and whys lead to “facts,” what-ifs lead toward deeper exploration, something beyond facts: truths.

If facts deal with science and logic, truths deal with what it’s like to be complex, sometimes disturbed, confused organisms called humans. So truths deal with humanity beyond a biological level. These truths are in the darkness, they are the Unknown, and that’s what we’re striving for.

Fiction is all a big humpin’ WHAT IF.

What if one of my students has noticed a tiny, hairy, naked woman climbing behind another student’s ear while carrying a spear? What if the gal who dumped the avocados all over the floor leaves them there, and then me and the other shoppers find her in another aisle later and she is trapped, her face in a silent scream just beneath the surface of a newly sprouted but already dead-looking avocado tree in the cereal aisle? What if the birds are the ones that steal shoes and string them over power lines? What if the Sweetest Day flower salesman has a thorny rose where his penis should be? What if worms fill the bottom of the rowboat, and they have teeth and someone desperately needs to get off the shore? What if a fire alarm sounds during the school band concert, the auditorium is evacuated, and the firefighters and rescue squad go on an ax-murdering rampage?

What if?

The wonder is in the form of imagination for the writer. And imagination can only come from memory. We draw upon things in our mind already and put them together in new ways. No one could have written about a flying ship . . . if a ship and knowledge of flying were not already there in the ol’ brain, in other words. And dark fiction likes to work in fantastic imagery, which often serves intentionally or unintentionally as metaphor.

The tiny, hairy, spear-carrying woman might stand for jealousy. The face in the avocado tree might represent selfishness. The shoe-stealing birds might stand for mankind’s inadequacies. And the flower peddler’s anatomy might represent greed or secret lust.

Wonder for me—dark wonder, so often in my work—is in saying, in wondering, “What’s the story behind that?” Going from the concrete, which is the literal imagery in the story, to the abstract, which is, really, theme.

It’s in seeing and showing the world in vivid detail and in discovering what humanity’s place is in it by witnessing human struggle. And in knowing that if you see Silly String scattered and sprayed all around the end of someone’s driveway and mailbox, it surely has to do with a mail carrier who is struggling desperately in his relationship with a rodeo clown who is haunted by dreams of a psychic bull that can predict the immediate future.

About the Guest Author

Brady Allen


Brady Allen

Brady Allen is the author of Back Roads and Frontal Lobes, a collection of 23 tales in the genres of horror, crime, the road story, soft sci-fi, dark fantasy, surrealism, existentialism, the weird tale, and even some plain ol’ realism. He has published numerous short stories in magazines, journals, and anthologies in the U.S, England, and Ireland and has received honorable mentions for a couple of them in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror volumes from St. Martin’s Press, as well as an Individual Artist Fellowship in fiction from the Ohio Arts Council for three others. He loves Reds baseball on a transistor radio, and the sound of a train in the still of the night calls to him. Allen teaches writing at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and lives in Dayton with his two daughters.

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All the Stories I Remember

October 18th, 2012

by Christopher Shearer

When Will Horner asked me to contribute to the “Awakenings” blog, I had to think about it, and when I thought about it, I realized I needed to think more. You see, the point of the blog is to talk about what “awakens your wonder,” and if I’m being honest with you and with myself, the answer to that would be everything. I don’t think there’s a single thing that happens that doesn’t make me feel something or leave an impression that someday might turn into a story. And that’s the way it works with most (possibly all) creative types. We are inspired by and reflect the world around us. Not just a part of it. All of it. But that’s not an acceptable answer. I can’t sit here any type “everything” and be done with it. How does that reveal anything? It’s too vague to hold any real meaning, no matter how true it may be. This left me searching for something more specific, something inside that ephemeral “everything” that I could latch onto and explore, but what? That question lead me to a rereading of many of my stories, and I discovered something there. I discovered a piece of “everything” that I seem to return to again and again, unknowingly until now. I discovered my memories there, in every story, just below the surface or sometimes blow-by-blow as things happened. But that discovery made me pause, because is that an acceptable answer? What’s special about memories? And aren’t they in themselves stories?

They are stories, I think, because what we remember is never exactly what happened. It can’t be. Our perception is always skewed by our desires, by our wants, our needs, by our lives and hopes and dreams. By us. What we remembered is never truly factual because it’s our memory of it, our interpretation. We place emphasis on certain things; we see things from angles specific to us. Our memories are part of us. They are our story, but is that story something that truly “awakens our wonder”? It is.

Thinking about it, I remembered many of the stories of Harlan Ellison, especially the novellas All the Lies That Are My Life and Pretty Maggie Money Eyes. Both of these, he claims, were straight out of his memories. And then I remembered an interview I watched once with Ray Bradbury, where he talked about the story that changed his life. That story, he said, was “The Lake,” which he based on a memory. He did the same, he claimed, with every story after it. Then I picked up Richard Matheson’s new novel, Generations, which is overtly autobiographical, and I realized this was something I could talk about, because if it’s good enough for the greats, then why wouldn’t it be good enough for me?

Looking over my stories, I realized it’s the common thread. My first published story grew out of my parents’ custody battle, my first Pushcart-nominated story grew out of an early morning walk in Columbus, Ohio’s Park of Roses, when I watched the snow melt. You see, even that moment was special, at least the way I see it. I wasn’t just wandering while stuff dripped around me. I was thinking about my life. I was feeling the cold and the wind and the wet, and that was making me feel something, face something. And when I think about it, every memory is like that. Maybe it’s because of its importance that I remember it or maybe everything that happens in life is that important. I don’t know. But I do know that nothing is simply a “fact.” There’s always more to it. There’s always us inside of it, and we see that, we know that in what we remember. We don’t—or at least I don’t—always notice it as it’s happening, but I do when I look back. And that’s where stories come from. They come from moments that are more than they seem at first glance, that carry more in them than you’d expect.

When I was little, probably two, maybe three, my family lived on a small farm in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, and I used to go out back and sit on this large rock that waited by the edge of the forest there. I’d sit there and think, and I remember seeing the shadows stretch and then take hold of each other. I remember the yellow eyes of beasts hidden in those trees. I remember the sounds and the smells, and I remember the way it made me feel. Now, is what I remember what happened? In one sense I know it isn’t. I was just a toddler sitting on a rock. But in another sense, it is, because it’s how I lived those moments. And stories come from what I lived, not from what necessarily was. And you only get that—get the full sense of that—in memories.

About the Guest Author

Christopher Shearer


Christopher Shearer

Christopher Shearer’s writing has appeared in Cemetery Dance, Horror World, Big Pulp, From the Fallout Shelter, the all-star anthology Dark Light, and many more. In the past five years, he has received three Penn State University Best Short Story Awards, a Demon Minds Best Short Story Award, and two Pushcart Prize Nominations. He works as an editor with Cemetery Dance Publications and reads for John Joseph Adams’s magazines, Nightmare and Lightspeed, as well as his upcoming anthologies. Chris is also a featured book reviewer on fearnet.com and co-chair of the Bram Stoker Award Long Fiction Jury. He attends Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction where he is mentored by Tim Waggoner and Lawrence C. Connolly, and he is finishing his first novel.

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