Recently I agreed to a deal with a publisher-to-be-named to do a collection of my short fiction. I've been so focused on writing novels for so long that there really isn't a big wealth of material from which to cull stories for this thing. However, in my research for this project, I was pleased to discover there were just enough stories to warrant one decent-sized collection.
My first print publication of any real significance was a chapbook of four short stories called Under The Skin. Under The Skin was released by Undaunted Press in early 2003, about a year and a half before my first novel from Leisure Books was released. All of the stories from the chapbook will appear in this new collection. Prior to the chapbook, I'd had a few stories appear online at Horrorfind and at a now-defunct e-zine called Dream Forge. Two of the Horrorfind stories appeared as free fiction offerings on my message board for a couple of years, but have now been pulled from there due to their upcoming inclusion in the new collection.
So that takes us up to half a dozen stories. A good start, but not quite enough for a full collection. While I was searching for things for this project, there was one story in particular that I badly wanted to find and include. Not necessarily because it is any better than any of the other stories--it isn't--but because of its significance in my early writing history and development. The story is called "Slugger" and it was technically my first professional sale when it was accepted in 1990 by New Blood Magazine. For those too young to know, New Blood was one of a number of upstart small press genre fiction mags that sprang up in the wake of the demise of the vaunted Horror Show (which was basically the Cemetery Dance of its day). New Blood's editor, Chris Lacher, quickly made a name for himself with a brash editorial style. He was from roughly my generation, maybe slightly older. I submitted numerous stories to New Blood. They were consistently rejected, but in the series of chatty cover letters and rejection notes this period covered, I found that Chris and I both enjoyed the novels of Richard Laymon and many of the same rock and roll bands of the era. Lacher's in-your-face editorial approach occasionally offended people. He really had a kind of Brian Keene vibe about him, and back then I thought he was going to end up being a big deal.
Anyway, "Slugger" was my breakthrough with New Blood and I was of course thrilled when Chris accepted it. True to my luck back then, however, something went wrong at New Blood. They never published another issue and "Slugger" never appeared. Having it appear in this collection is my way of achieving a sort of belated closure with that mostly forgotten period of my writing history. However, the problem was finding an actual copy of the story. It had previously existed only in a physical, typed form. I hunted through box after box of old junk in a desperate search for the manuscript. I was on the verge of giving up when I came across a pair of keys at the bottom of one box. The keys were to an old lockbox, which I knew to contain other old manuscripts, as well as many fragments of unfinished stories going all the way back to my early teenage years.
The lockbox was going to be my last ditch effort. I hadn't opened it in ages and I'd assumed I was going to have to break it open somehow. Luckily, the discovery of the long-missing keys spared me that effort. I opened the lockbox and breathed a sigh of deep relief when I discovered the "Slugger" manuscript near the top of a very tightly packed-in stack of old stories. I set "Slugger" aside and started a trip down memory lane as I sifted through the old things. I found one more useable story, one called "Rattlehead", which appeared in the Dream Forge ezine circa 1996. It's a good story and deserves new life.
Nothing else in the lockbox really was good enough or fully realized enough to warrant inclusion in the collection. It was, however, a personally fascinating look at my development down through the years. I read one story written when I was fifteen called "When The Goblins Came To Spencer Avenue", which was highly derivative of both the Twilight Zone and Stephen King. Not a great story by any means, but I was surprised to find several paragraphs that were pretty solidly constructed, even if the ideas they conveyed weren't worthy. None of the dialogue in that story rang true in any way, but what do you expect? I was fifteen.
Another story called "Autopsy Queen" was written a bit further down the line, probably somewhere in my early twenties. It's a longish story about a strange girl who lovingly maintains photo albums of dead people. As I read the story, it struck me that this girl was sort of an early version of Julie in The Killing Kind.
There were five pages of something with the astonishingly original title Return of the Dead, which was written somewhere in my teens and appears to have been meant to be the start of a novel. As you probably guessed, it was a zombie thing and probably about the blandest bit of zombie fiction you could imagine. Nonetheless, I think it was probably my first stab at writing about zombies and seems noteworthy for that alone at least.
I won't go into the rest of it in any real depth. There was simply too much stuff, including a number of complete stories amongst all the fragments. But even the complete stories are too much a relic of the past to ever warrant public scrutiny. They'll never be published and that's as it should be. It's likely that any writer who has been writing nearly his or her whole life has a similar trove of ancient stories. They're interesting to look back on every once in a long while to see how we've developed over the years and decades, but that's about it.
So "Slugger" and "Rattlehead" brings us up to eight good stories for the collection. Not quite enough. Luckily we will be able to include some stories of more modern vintage, stories that were previously only available in a limited way via anthologies, including one from a long-in-the-works tribute anthology that, as of this writing, still hasn't been published. That puts the collection at a dozen stories, which feels like a decent size. It may yet include one or two other things, and I think my regular readers will enjoy the finished product.
More news about this project, including the publisher, coming soon.