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

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

A Necessary Detour

This week I had to take a short break from working on my novel. I didn’t want to, necessarily, it just worked out that way. Something I hadn’t seen much of in a while wandered across my path and drew my attention.

Ideas for stories come to me – to most writers, I suspect – in the oddest ways, unannounced and when least expected. In this case I was taking my dog, Daphne, for a late-night stroll around the property. I often talk to her as we walk, and on this occasion something I said sparked a little idea in my head. Just an innocent little phrase, but my mind took it and ran with it into darker places. By the time we came up the stairs and back inside for the night, the basis for a short story had been born.

I came inside, and once everyone else in the house was bedded down for the night I sat down at the computer and decided I needed to get the basic idea down before it got away. I sent a message to a friend that outlined the story in a few lines. I wanted an outside opinion – sometimes ideas that sound cool at first, in my head, make less sense once they go from concept to execution. In this case I got the thumbs up and forged ahead.

It isn’t finished yet, but it’s outlined. In my own vernacular, the skeleton has been assembled, now it just needs meat on the bones. I’ll pick and putter with it for a while until I’m happy with it, put it through my usual routine, and call it done. It’s nice, because after hammering away at novels almost exclusively for the last three-plus years, writing a short story is a recent rarity for me.

So, why was it a “necessary detour”, as the title implies? While I often stress the need to finish projects and not leave them lying around in various stages of disarray and disassembly, sometimes when something you’re working on feels like a struggle a step back can be a blessing. It’s not a long term thing – I’ll go back to the grindstone soon enough. I feel I may have needed a little pause, without pausing. In this case it came in the form of a new project. Just a brief side road to renew my enthusiasm, and maybe a little reminder that I’m still capable of pulling out a short story once in a while.

On a related note, Crafting the Short Story  kicked off this week. I always look forward to working with a new group, and so far this one has a fun dynamic. It should be a good run.

Time to get back to it. Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP