Inside Old Bones: Through the Eyes of a Child

Today’s edition of my behind-the-scenes look at my upcoming short story collection, Old Bones, takes us into a story that goes back several years. I will often attempt to give my story titles a double meaning, and Through the Eyes of a Child is one that does exactly that. It’s also one of a number of stories I’ve written with a child as the main character; maybe my first to do so, now that I think about it.

(I just now took a peek at the table of contents for Old Bones, and noticed this is one of three – arguably four, depending on how you look at it – stories which feature children as the main character. Over the years I’ve made an attempt to write not just from my own perspective, or that of others just like me. Writers, particularly beginning ones, will often inadvertently write every character as though they’re speaking through the character directly. Man, woman, child, modern, past, future: all written as if the character is a role being played by the author. I have attempted to avoid doing this, thus the inclusion of main characters that aren’t anything like me. The trick is to make the character relatable – if it’s a small child, make the reader believe these are the words and actions of a small child. I don’t always manage to pull it off, but it’s something I continue to work at.)

Several years ago my old friend J. Richard Jacobs – who I eulogized in this post – was looking for some stories for a themed anthology he called ‘Wunderkind’. He wanted stories about exceptional children, with special powers or traits. I thought about it for a little while, kicked around a few ideas, until I settled on what would ultimately become Eyes of a Child. The character, Tony, is a four-year-old boy with an IQ that’s off the charts. He also has a special secret ability that he doesn’t show or tell anyone about.

This is the part where I usually tell you about the incident or circumstances that inspired the story in question. I can’t do that today, because most of the plot behind this one stemmed from the game I play which I like to call “what if?” I almost never write to a prompt, but in this case I wanted to be included in this anthology, so I started kicking around ideas. Some of them were pretty far out, others simply lacked the impact I was looking for. I don’t know that it’s an entirely original idea – is anything, any more? – but I can’t recall ever seeing a similar story in my travels.

As with a lot of the things I wrote (and still write, if I’m being honest), I approached it with a sort of Twilight Zone mentality. I love the twist ending, and I like to think the reader doesn’t see it coming in this tale. The characters, Tony and his mother, Wendy, were named after real people. This, by the way, is something I frequently do, sort of an homage or tip of the hat to a friend or acquaintance. Most of the time I don’t tell anyone about this, not even the person in question. Rather, I prefer to let them stumble upon “themselves” when they’re reading and, hopefully, get a kick out of their inclusion (and if they don’t, well, then the story in question is purely a work of fiction and all resemblances to real people, living or deceased, is purely coincidental). I don’t want to spoil the story before you’ve had a chance to read it, but I will say that Tony was a real little boy I knew who passed away when he was about the same age as the boy in this story. Wendy is a friend of mine who has children of her own, though none (I don’t think, anyway) who can do the things Tony can.

The story satisfied my curmudgeonly editor, and he included it in his anthology. I was happy to share pages with many talented wordsmiths, all hand-picked by J. himself, and I was equally happy to have met with his approval. Wunderkind marked the third and final time my work appeared in the excellent Twisted Tails series, a fact I’m pleased and proud of. Now, I’ve chosen Eyes of a Child for inclusion in Old Bones, which I hope will bring pleasure and enjoyment to those who read it.

So that’s the story behind Through the Eyes of a Child. I hope you’re enjoying reading about the stories behind the stories, and will pick up a copy of Old Bones when it’s released. As always, thanks for reading. Be sure to pop over to my contact page and sign up to receive updates directly to your inbox.

Be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Inside Old Bones – The Dungarvon Whooper

“The Miramichi region is comprised of a series of small communities that line the river of the same name. The area, one of the earliest settled in New Brunswick, has long been steeped in legend and mystery. In the darkest part of the vast forest that surrounds the mighty Miramichi lurks a creature from days long past: a wailing banshee known as the Whooper that has terrorized the locals for over a century.”

Excerpt from “The Dungarvon Whooper”

Nestled deep within the forests of central New Brunswick can be found a series of small communities, strung along the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. Collectively known as ‘the Miramichi’, from Boiestown at one extreme, through Doaktown, Blissfield, Blackville, Renous, Dungarvon, Chatham Head, Loggieville, to the jewel in the crown, Miramichi City (or the amalgamated Chatham and Newcastle, if you’re of a certain vintage) at the other. Each its own unique and separate entity, yet simultaneously a piece of the bigger picture.

Once world famous for its unparalleled salmon fishing, the Miramichi is also well known for its abundance of ghosts, haunts, and spooky locales. Each stop along the way boasts its own entry in the grand tale. Of all, perhaps the most commonly known and oft-repeated tale is that of the Dungarvon Whooper. I won’t tell the story here; numerous versions are readily available online and in many books. I first learned of the story in an excellent book by Carole Spray called Will O’ the Wisp: Folk Tales and Legends of New Brunswick. From my earliest years I loved both the book and the legends themselves, which I endeavored to learn more of.

This is all just background to familiarize you with the area in which my story takes place. My version is inspired by the legend, but goes in an entirely new direction and takes on a life of its own. Based in modern times, it features a trio of young film makers just familiar enough with the Whooper tale to want a closer look. They find their way to the site (which, it may interest you to know, is commemorated with a plaque), and… well, I won’t spoil the surprise for you. Let’s just say they find more than they bargained for.

The story of the Whooper is one of a number I’ve written based on experiences – mine and those of others – from the Miramichi region. Some have been published here and there, others haven’t seen the light of day just yet. As with this one, I like to modify them a little, make them my own, take them in new directions. If you haven’t heard the original tale I encourage you to look into it. Of course, I encourage you to check mine out when Old Bones is released too! But beyond the Whooper, wherever you happen to wander in your travels, keep your ear to the ground for local legends and dark tales. They’re all around, if you listen closely.

Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Inside Old Bones: It Slipped My Mind

After the unpleasant task of my most recent post, in which I bade farewell to an old friend and colleague, we’re moving forward in a more positive direction. It’s time for another look behind the scenes of Old Bones. In today’s entry we focus on a darkly humorous piece called It Slipped My Mind.

It’s the narrative of a man who has just killed his wife and is on his way home from disposing of the body, and explains to the reader his motives behind such a heinous act. He’s convinced it wasn’t his wife at all, but rather an intricately detailed duplicate, possibly planted by the government or aliens or some such. The imposter was able to fool him for a while but ultimately made a fatal mistake: she asked him if he’d ever eaten jambalaya before. His real wife would have known instantly that he had, because of the back story involved with that particular dish. He knew for sure then, and took it upon himself to take her out before she could do whatever dastardly thing to him she’d been sent to do.

This story was inspired, as so many of the good ones are, by real life events. In this case, it was based on a conversation between my wife and I – about jambalaya. Now, my repertoire in the kitchen is a bit on the limited side, but one thing I do make very well is jambalaya. In our early days together I figured whipping up a batch would be a good way to impress her, and asked if she’d ever had it before. What I didn’t remember is that not only had I asked her that no fewer than four times already… I had already actually made it for her. Her incredulous look, and the fact that she razzed me about it (and still does to this day) made me wonder if maybe I was getting a bit forgetful. I tried to cover for my oversight by pretending I was just teasing her, but she saw right through me and wasn’t having any of it.

It’s become a running joke between us now. If one of us forgets something, the other will counter with “but have you ever had jambalaya before?” Aside from the fun we have with it, the incident sparked my creative “what if…?” mind. I thought about what might happen if the circumstances were a bit different and things got out of hand, and as it played out in my mind this story began to take shape. I won’t spoil the ending here, I’ll just say it’s pretty clever, if I do say so myself.

So even though nobody actually died over this tasty dish, the story is deeply rooted in real events – based on a true story, as they say. My wife, who is still very much alive, got a kick out of the fact I was able to turn this ridiculous sequence of events into a horror story. The lesson here, of course, is this: writers will always find a way to mine a story from what may seem to be nothing of substance. Just something to bear in mind whenever I’m around.

Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Inside Old Bones: The Crossroads

For this next installment in my Old Bones back stories, in which I discuss the origins behind the stories contained in my upcoming collection and delve into the creative process, we’re looking at a ghostly tale called The Crossroads. This one was written fairly recently, but it sprang from a decades-old incident.

For anyone familiar with the Miramichi area, you know ghost stories abound there. Every little hamlet and village, every town, and every inch of the vast, unbroken wilderness in between holds a spooky tale or two. You don’t have to look very far to find someone who either experienced something they couldn’t explain, or knows someone who has. Now me, I’ve spent more than my share of time rooting around the area over the years – long enough to have picked up more than a few of these stories. Some, like the Dungarvon Whooper (which we’ll get to in a future post), are well-known and oft-told. Others aren’t nearly as famous outside of where they took place. And then there are those, like this one, which virtually nobody knows about. How do I know about it, then? Because I was there.

The Crossroads starts off with the main character, Fred, telling his awestruck neighbor a ghost story from his past. He and his buddy were just youngsters when they witnessed an ethereal stagecoach-like carriage drawn by a team of horses with eyes that glowed red in the pitch blackness. It approached at a fast clip from behind the car the boys were in, charging down the old dirt road before vanishing into the dense forest without a trace. Terrified and fascinated, they investigate further and get a closer look at “the other side” than they ever imagined.

I was about the same age as the characters in the story when I was present for something very much like this happened. Similar setting, similar circumstances, and that same ghostly carriage complete with the team of horses. I didn’t personally see any of this take place, but I was at the wheel when one of my passengers did. He perched on his knees on the back seat and stared into the murky darkness behind us in silence, and when he turned around in his seat the look on his face left no doubt he’d seen something that spooked him.

At this point, the story goes in a completely different direction from the original encounter. In reality there was no further encounter with the horses, the carriage, or it’s otherworldly driver. We drove off into the night without further incident, though we debated the freaky encounter well into the night. Though I didn’t realize it yet, the seeds had been planted for The Crossroads. More than two decades would pass before I finally put pen to paper (literally – that’s how I write most of my stories, the old-fashioned way) and brought this old tale back to life. I like the direction this version went in, even if most of it isn’t strictly true to the original. The other principle player, the one who witnessed the carriage all those years ago, liked it too, even if he didn’t care for how it turned out for his character. I don’t want to give too much away, so I won’t tell you any more than that other than to say it ends in a way I could have seen playing out, had it come to that.

So, that’s the story of where The Crossroads came from. I realize there’s a fine line between sharing the behind-the-scenes stuff and spoiling the reader’s experience. Hopefully I’ve managed to straddle that line, and when the book is released hopefully you’ll read the stories and enjoy these “liner notes”, if you will, after the fact. More of these to come. In the meantime, thanks as always for reading!

Be safe, talk soon,

-JP

Dissecting Old Bones

Where do story ideas come from? It’s one of the most common questions I, and presumably most genre fiction writers, hear. It’s a legitimate question. I can only speak for myself, but in my case the answer usually comes down to one of two things.

The first is two simple words that form the basis for most speculative fiction: what if? Take any everyday situation or scenario, and ask yourself what if things aren’t quite what they seem, or what you might expect. A young couple sitting on a park bench having a conversation? What if they’re plotting a robbery, or a killing spree? A fisherman sitting on the bank of a peaceful stream? What if an unspeakable monster lurks just below the surface? The possibilities are endless; the trick is to figure out which ones will capture the imagination effectively and become intriguing stories.

The second type of story creation draws inspiration from real events and/or past experiences. In my travels I’ve seen and experienced all sorts of interesting and, in some cases, unexplained things. Some of these turned out to be perfectly mundane and explainable things, but that doesn’t necessarily take them off the table as good story ideas. As for the rest, the ones that defy reason or logic, well… those are even better story fodder.

This is all well and good, but broad-stroke generalities aren’t nearly as interesting as specific examples, right? So, since my first collection of horror stories, Old Bones, comes out later this year, I thought I would do a short series of entries here that takes a look at some of the stories contained therein and where they came from.

Today we’ll look at a tale called Fashionably Late. It’s the story of a young married couple attending a corporate Halloween costume party. This was one of those “what if” scenarios where I found myself thinking about how things might play out if the costumes the people at the party wore weren’t actually costumes at all. What would you do if you walked into a room filled with vampires and werewolves and such, only to discover these were real monsters around you? How long before they discovered you weren’t actually one of them? How would they react? The characters were loosely based on a real couple I know (who were pleased to learn they’d inspired this piece), which added an element of realism and believability. To the best of my knowledge nothing like this ever actually happened to the real couple, but I thought about how they might handle it if it had. Here’s a short excerpt:

Attention to detail was one thing, but the closer he examined some of the costumes the more he was convinced there was more to them than just extreme dedication to detail. The wiggling ears on the werewolf, the twitching antennae on the alien mutant, even the pulsing gills on the swamp creature. Somewhere in the back of his mind he questioned how a creature with gills could breathe out of the water, which made him aware that he hadn’t been thinking of the people in the room as his co-workers in costumes. Subtly, he crept closer to take a better look at the beast he’d seen eating the arm earlier, and it was only when he saw a small cluster of fleas leaping around near the neck and back that he came to the sudden, jarring conclusion that it was no costume. Realization dawned on him, creeping up from his subconscious with increasingly chilling clarity: these weren’t intricately detailed costumes. At least some of these people weren’t people at all. This was real, and he was in serious trouble.

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork for the creative process I’ll continue to feature the back stories from Old Bones here as we wend our way toward its release. To receive these posts directly to your inbox, sign up at my contact page and you’ll be the first to know whenever I add new content.

Thanks for reading and following along with me. Until next time!

-JP

Tying Up Loose Ends

March is slogging its way to a close, and has apparently decided to end on a snowy note this year. After several days of weather in the high teens this weekend has dipped back below the freezing point and today is the third in a row it’s either rained or snowed, or both. Our newest grandchild is just a little over a week old now, and hopefully the warmer weather isn’t far behind her arrival.

It’s a rare down time for me in terms of writing. The forthcoming Seventeen Skulls and Old Bones are still in the pipeline, and the winter sessions of my classes have all concluded. With the spring classes still a couple of weeks away from kicking off, I’m cleaning up a couple of projects that have taken a back seat lately.

First on the docket: edits on my next novel, Putting Down Roots. This is one of those projects that feels like it’s been on my to-do list forever. In a way, it has been kicking around for a long time. I came up with the original idea for this about five or six years ago and wrote the bones of the first draft, then put it aside for a while to let it marinade. Time went by and other projects pushed it down the list of priorities, but it’s always been a good enough story that it was never entirely forgotten. So the skeleton became a more complete body as I put meat on the bones and fleshed out the story. Now it’s more or less finished, albeit very rough and in need of a lot of polish.

About a year ago I started work on another novel idea I had. I started the fleshing out process, worked on developing some of the characters and researching the settings and such. To date it isn’t finished, but it will be. I’m usually loathe to work on too many projects at once – I prefer to finish one before diving into another for fear I’ll abandon the first one unfinished. But what this means is that I have two novels in various stages of completion, and it’s time to close one of them out.

The editing process is a lot less fun than writing, no question. It’s probably why I procrastinate and put it off as much as I do. But the fact of the matter is, whenever there’s an incomplete project waiting for me, I think about it pretty constantly until it’s off my plate. So the process now involves setting aside a block of time with as few distractions as possible and just push through a chunk of what needs to be done. Each time I do that, the sense of accomplishment pushes me to press on and get through to the end.

Of course, getting to the end isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning of the next round of edits. But that’s another story…

Anyway, that’s what’s new here. As much as I enjoy this novel, it’s time to lay this old friend to rest. The sooner it’s done, the sooner I can share it with the world and give the next big project the attention it deserves. Thanks as always for reading and following along with me. Until next time,

Be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Horror in the Books

Just a few notes to bring everyone up to date on what’s new in my little corner of the world. We’re mere weeks away from the first day of spring! If you’re in a part of the world that’s still clinging to the daylight savings thing, it happens this weekend.

The inaugural offering of Writing Horror: The Dark Side concluded tonight. I have to say, it went extremely well, even as I worked out the kinks and smoothed out the syllabus. What are the key elements to writing horror? How do you write for maximum emotional impact? At the same time, as with Crafting the Short Story, my emphasis is always on good writing habits and practices. So the challenge is to fit everything in, cover some of the basics while keeping it fresh for those who have already taken the short story course. I was thrilled and very proud as I watched my students, some of whom hadn’t written anything in years, churn out some chilling and creepy stuff. I’m already looking forward to the next session, which kicks off April 12th.

Seventeen Skulls and Old Bones are on the horizon, still working their way through the arduous process of becoming books. Next on the docket: the first draft of the next novel is done, now the process has begun to repair all the fissures and cracks and transform it into something that resembles a finished product. This one’s still several steps down the road before it sees the light of day, but it’s never too early to throw out a teaser!

Finally, thanks to everyone who read my post about the Donnelly massacre last month. It garnered a lot of interest and generated lots of positive feedback. It’s a subject of great interest to me, and a story I always enjoy recounting to anyone who isn’t familiar with the history. I suspect there may be more such entries in this space along the way.

That’s all for now. As always, thanks for stopping by for a visit. Feel free to sign up for updates via email through my contact page. Until next time,

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Seventeen Skulls Cover Reveal

A couple of weeks ago I released a sneak peek at the cover of my upcoming short story collection, Old Bones. I’m excited about its release later this year, and I think the eye-catching cover art really does it justice.

At that time I promised to do the same for my new novel, Seventeen Skulls, in the near future. Well, the future is now. Allow me to present to you, for the first time anywhere, the cover of my forthcoming novel, Seventeen Skulls:

I’ll have more to say about the novel itself in future posts. For now I just wanted to share the cover, and my excitement for its impending release. Watch this space for more information including teasers, blurbs, excerpts and launch date!

-JP

Winter Semester Starts Soon!

Winter is in full swing – actually, I take that back… it really isn’t. I have to admit, as Canadian winters go this one has been rather mild, which doesn’t exactly break my heart. It’s still pretty chilly out there, but at least for the time being we’re not eyeballs-deep in snow. I’m speaking solely from my Maritime perspective though, so depending on where you’re reading this from your mileage may vary. If your locale isn’t getting off as lightly as we are here, my condolences.

Nevertheless, the onset of winter does mean the beginning of a new semester of online classes at UNB. And as always, it means Crafting the Short Story (which has moved from Mondays to Thursdays and now run for eight weeks) along with the latest addition to the lineup, Writing Horror: The Dark Side which takes over the long-standing Monday time slot. And the hour is nearly upon us! Classes begin next week, so if you’ve been on the fence about signing up, there’s no time like the present. There’s still room in both classes, so if you or someone you know is interested in learning/improving their writing skills – and filling some of those wintry COVID lockdown hours – you can kill two birds with one stone and come hang out in my virtual classroom.

Lastly, as I frequently do here, I would like to remind you that reviews for Terror in High Water are always welcome on any and all platforms it’s available on. Reviews are always welcome but they’re especially helpful now with not one but two new titles coming soon, to generate and draw interest in anticipation of the forthcoming Old Bones and Seventeen Skulls. Teasers, blurbs, and cover art when available can be seen on my World Castle Publishing author page, here. Also, for updates on new posts and news check out my contact page, fill out a few boxes, and voila! Emailed updates sent right to your inbox.

That’s all for now. Thank you as always for dropping in to see the latest goings-on, or catch up on some of the history around here. Whether you’re a first-timer or daily visitor, I’m always pleased you’ve taken some of your time to spend here with me. Until next time,

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Introducing Old Bones

As I mentioned in my last post, I have two new books coming out in the next little while. As I also mentioned, one of these will be a collection of short stories. Some of these stories you may have seen before, as there is a smattering of reprints included in there. But there are also a number of brand new, never before seen scary tales that I’m very excited to share with everyone. I won’t tell you any more about them just yet – but keep an eye on this space for hints and teasers.

To make up for the lack of information let me share with you something just as cool: introducing the cover for Old Bones, the first collection exclusively containing my own work.

Pretty snazzy, huh? Oh, and it’s also unique in the sense that it’s the first horror short story collection my publisher, World Castle Publishing, has ever produced. That’s all, just this one. So that’s a special and rare honor that I’m very grateful for.

To say I’m thrilled about this would be selling it short. Short stories are what I cut my teeth on in this industry. They’re still my go-to when I’m stuck or in a bit of a creative lull. For this collection I’ve selected some of my favorite stories from over the years. In turn, each of the stories included here has a back story about how it was created, where the idea came from, the process, and so on. Maybe down the road I’ll do a post dedicated to some of those behind the scenes tidbits.

For now, I hope you like the cover, and I promise there will be a cover reveal for the new novel very soon. Keep watching this space for more info and updates, or for even more prompt service feel free to drop by my contact page, fill out the info, and receive updates delivered right to your inbox.

Until next time, stay safe and talk soon!

-JP